Growing The Sunflower
In April 1996 we began putting lipstick on a pig of a restaurant, The Hy-Line, at the old sky-diving airport once located on Swamp Pike in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania. This place had its flaws; it was built one foot below grade and would flood, there was a crazy land lady who insisted on keeping the shag carpet on the walls. Yes, I said on the walls. But, the rent was only $600 a month for a completely functional restaurant. Amazing! We could follow our dream of restaurant ownership without breaking our bank or losing our home.
With the help of Grammy and George's cousin Adriane, we worked hard to create a warm inviting atmosphere out of this gloomy, diner style restaurant. On our very small budget, we successfully covered the shag carpeted walls, painted dark cheap paneling a bright golden orange, scrubbed years of grease out of the small kitchen and tried to give the white block exterior a welcoming look with potted flowers. While the cleaning, menu creating and decorating was going on we were creating what would become the core philosophy of Shorty’s Sunflower Café: Great Food, Friendly Happy Staff, and a Welcoming Fun Atmosphere.
May 18, 1996 was our first day and it was a disaster. We ended up compensating more sales than we brought in. This show of apology helped in endearing many of our customers to us. The customers who witnessed our opening day disaster all came back and still come to our Café today.
In 2000 our crazy land lady began taking steps to sell the airport and all the buildings on the property. This gave us the opportunity to look into a new and better location.
We looked at several locations and couldn’t help but see the potential of 1494 North Charlotte Street in Pottstown. Not only did we know it was a great location with lots of parking, but Russ Gresh the landlord, was an amazing business man who also saw our potential.
Originally we were only going to open in the former space known as D’s Deli, but we would only be able to accommodate 24 seats. It was Russ and George Mason (Liz's Dad) that convinced us it would be better to double the size and take over the space adjoining the deli. So with the help of our parents, two close friends and a home equity loan, we were able to we open the wall between the two spaces and create a restaurant with more seating.
On Sunday September 3, 2000 we cooked our last breakfast at the Swamp Pike location. On Tuesday September 5, 2000 the new and improved Shorty’s Sunflower Cafe location opened for business. The atmosphere was bright and the kitchen more open to our customers. The security of a long term lease was now not only less frightening but gave us hope for continued growth and success for years to come.
In 2009, Nathan Stouch, our former line cook and recent graduate of the CIA, returned to the Café to become our Sous Chef. He embraced the Café’s philosophy of great food and great service. George and Nate tapped into a new creative energy. Through daily conversations and sharing we were inspired to further define the direction of the café’s food. We were able to open seven days a week instead of just five, enabling us to hire more staff. Nate took on more responsibility over the years and became our executive chef. This left George with more time on his hands to look at other opportunities our cafe could offer.
On August 4, 2012 we launched the Sunflower Truck Stop, our new mobile Café. This made it possible to advance one of George’s goals, to support other local businesses, mainly farms and purveyors. By having the truck at farmers' markets we finally made the connections making it possible to purchase eggs, meat and produce from locally owned farms. We also found locally made bacon and other ingredients.
The Food truck opened up a huge opportunity to be out in the community. We were part of many festivals and community events. We also were able to bring the cafe to private homes. It was so much fun working in that small but very organized kitchen.
Our long time waitress and face of the cafe, Jen Armstrong, took over as our General Manager. She spent hours setting up and training on the POS system, making it possible to send orders more quickly to the kitchen. Bringing Jen in as General Manager also gave more time to build the catering aspects of the business.
We took steps towards the future of the Cafe. We expanded to the space behind the booth wall. We created cafe seating for up to 80 in the dining room as well as adding a much needed indoor waiting space for guests.
With the additional space, Liz created the Gathering room, a private event space holding up to 40 guests. This space allowed us to open to private parties, earlier in the afternoon, on weekends. As well as a space for private breakfast/lunch meetings during the weekdays.
Our first booking was a baby shower on February 26, 2017. Offering this special place for special occasions ...........
At the beginning of 2020 we were riding high, coming off of our biggest year ever. We all worked so hard 2017-2019 expanding different areas of the cafe. The Cafe was crazy busy. We had monthly dinners. The party room was booked back to back. We had so many plans starting in 2020. Then Covid hit.
On March 19, 2020 Governor Wolf closed dine in businesses. We tried take out only, but it was not working. We never really did a ton of takeout, breakfast food is best eaten as soon as it is made, We had to completely shut down. It was heart breaking. Now I can go on about all the terrible crap that happened to us during "the covid years". I am not going to focus on that crap. That time is over and I believe in Karma. What I do like to focus on is what I started calling "the covid positives".
At the end of April 2020, Liz decided we have to make this work. With the help of Nate, Jen and the limited staff we had, we pivoted. We opened for Mother's Day weekend with a new way of doing business and sold out. The plan worked.
We created a completely different way of doing business. We focused on curbside pick up. We offered items we knew would travel well. We offered family style larger trays of food. We created a whole list of grocery items house made and locally sourced. We created an easy way for people to pull up in their cars to pick up the items. We expanded the website to offer pre order pick up.
our customers were amazing. Those who did not make it for Mother's Day bought a huge amount of gift cards to use when we reopened for dine in. Without our very patient and flexible staff, and all our customers, we would not be here today.
Now here we are, coming to the end of 2023. It is time for Jen and Nate to go to the next step. It is time for them to become owners. They have purchased the cafe and on January 1, 2024 Nate and Jen will be full owners of the cafe. These two very capable people will carry on the Shorty's Sunflower Cafe torch. You probably already think of them as the owners. Jen began working with us in 1999 and Nate started with us in 2006
They have been here everyday since George and Liz have slowed down their part of running the cafe.
From here on out it will be their story to continue. They have many ideas for how they see the future of the cafe. They plan to bring back special dinners and off premise catering trays.
Shorty's Sunflower Cafe is a living breathing entity due to all the people who have been with us over the years.