Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Origin of The Sunflower Cafe

It was 6 am, Saturday May 18, 1996- the first day of the Sunflower Café. It was rough. Not everything was perfect but it was a start.

Ever since graduating The Restaurant School, Liz and I dreamed of opening our own restaurant together. We each had our own ideas for the perfect place. We envisioned the menu, the décor and atmosphere, the feel and the flow, the locations and floor plans, everything!

Now, believe it or not it costs money to open your own business and nobody was footing the bill for these two eager culinary school graduates back in 1987 so off to work we went.

By the time 1996 came around, we had each made names for ourselves in the local (Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia) restaurant world. As the years passed the restaurant dreaming continued but this business wears you down after a time and you wonder is it even worth continuing to dream that dream?

We had other, better dreams to fulfill. We got married, bought a house and had a baby.
Opening our own restaurant began to feel like something that just wasn‘t going to happen. Over the years we sat down and talked with several people about partnering up on a number of different projects but the right deal never happened. We still didn’t have anybody handing out money to us for opening a restaurant. After a time I came to believe that if you could save enough money on your own to open a restaurant, you were better off keeping the money you just saved and NOT open the restaurant in the first place. Opening your own restaurant is not exactly a wise financial decision.

Somewhere in the world there must be a fortune cookie that says, “When the money train fails to pull into your station, make sure you hitch a ride with opportunity.”

One day, on my way to Boyertown to visit my parents, I drove right by that opportunity. There it was in the window of the old Highline Restaurant in Gilbertsville where the parachuters used to jump out of perfectly good airplanes - a small sign that read “Restaurant for Rent”.

We called the number on the sign and set a time to see the place on the inside. Know this, I grew up in Boyertown and we would go out to eat with my Grammy weekly. I must have driven past the Highline thousands of times. Never once in the first 28 years of my life did I go in or even consider entering that run down, scary building.

It was dirty. It was dark. It was greasy. It had shag carpet ON THE WALLS above the booths. The landlord was nosey and opinionated and domineering.

Here is the good part, the opportunity. It was only $600 a month. What? Really? For a completely equipped restaurant? It included the tables, chairs, kitchen equipment, etc. Sure it was all those other bad things mentioned too but $600! How could we pass up the chance?

Well passing up this chance wouldn’t have taken much thought normally. The place really was a mess. Fortunately, two significant events in my life made the opportunity before me stand out as a great chance to change things for the better. I was very unhappy at my current place of employment and Jake, our son, was almost 6 years old and getting ready to start school. In order for me to actually spend time with him I needed a schedule change. The nights and weekend schedule of an Executive Chef don’t make for quality family time.

Owning a “breakfast-lunch” restaurant was always one of those things that many “real” chefs I would talk to fantasized about having. “Wouldn’t it be great, so easy, no late nights, blah blah blah…”. Right!

Honestly I think I believed all those things too otherwise we may not be where we are right now. We did it. We signed the lease, I gave my notice and we started working on painting, cleaning and menu planning. Some might want to call it a leap of faith although I never saw it that way.

“If you build it they will come,” was always my motto. What we have built, hopefully, is this-an out of the ordinary dining experience that is delicious and special, fun and friendly and unique.

1 comment:

  1. I am sure you wrote this a while back and I can't believe nobody has commented on it. I am so glad you took that "leap of faith". You def have a special place with delicious food, superior service and delicious food. I have only been to your restaurant once but have been talking about going back ever since. My parents turned me onto it in 2007 and in my defense I had a baby in December of that year but promise we will be in again soon.