New Down Town Café hopes to become a staple in Siler City
Last Thursday morning, like most days of the week, Down Town Café was bustling. The smell of home fries and sizzling bacon wafted through the diner as the allure of German chocolate cakes beckoned potential customers inside from the windows.
On that day, open seats didn’t stay open long — much to the delight of owner Sherrie Hatfield, who said heavy traffic had been the rule since she opened the restaurant in early June.
Down Town Café opened to the public at 113 W. Raleigh St. in downtown Siler City June 8; the restaurant held its official ribbon-cutting ceremony last Thursday.
“I want to thank everybody that has come out to support me,” Hatfield told guests at the ceremony. “This has been a dream of mine for a very long time.”
Hatfield has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years in everything from dishwashing, to grocery store delis, to waitressing. Down Town Café is the first time she’s owned and operated her own establishment. She co-owns the restaurant with her business and personal partner, Jarrod Mashburn. She said they hope to be part of Siler City for many years to come by providing a comfortable dining experience for people of all ages.
“We plan to be around for a long time,” Hatfield said. “We are just so grateful to be part of the revitalization of downtown Siler City.”
The restaurant serves a variety of classic American breakfast and lunch options including omelettes, biscuits, and a variety of breakfast and lunch sandwiches. The café also aims to be affordable with all regular menu items under $10.
All of the cooking is done by Hatfield and her daughter, who also works in the restaurant. Hatfield said the recipes come from the food she makes at home.
Down Town Café’s location on West Raleigh Street is in a space that has seen a number of different restaurants open and close over the last few years, including Artisan Hub and Hometown Grill.
Despite the space being restaurants in the past, Hatfield said she had to remodel much of the space including adding two new 150-gallon grease traps, additional walls and redoing the back of the building to make it usable for food prep.
“We had no equipment in here whatsoever,” Hatfield said. “We basically started from scratch.”
She said gutting and remodeling of the space took just six weeks to complete. Hatfield said the speed of the construction was possible because of “determination.”
The space had been vacant for the past two years, but Hatfield said she believes she can buck the trend and create longevity in the space through a familial atmosphere.
“Whoever comes in my door will be considered family,” Hatfield said. “Come enjoy, see what we’re about and see what the differences are.”
One of the ways Hatfield is making the space feel like family is by making it relentlessly local. She is employing 10 Siler City residents and took out loans from local banks.
“This is another amazing tool in the box that the town can use for the economic development of the downtown,” said Siler City Mayor Chip Price. “It’s going to draw people into the area to shop, eat and explore.”
Price said it was refreshing to see the revitalization of downtown Siler City and interest in bringing business back to these once vacant spaces.
Hatfield was able to make this restaurant into a reality through her participation in Chatham Spark, an eight-week entrepreneurial program that the Chatham Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Central Carolina Community College, Chatham Small Business Center and Mountaire Farms. It’s the first year of the program, and according to her mentors, Hatfield was one of the top participants.
“By the time the program finished, Sherrie was already hitting the ground running,” said Cindy Poindexter, president of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce. “She had already secured her space and was ready to get her business open.”
The new Siler City restaurant is the first business from the Spark program to open its brick-and-mortar location. Other businesses proposed during the program include a bakery, a clothing boutique and a woodworking shop.
It took Hatfield just three months to go from concept to opening her restaurant — practically unheard of in the hospitality industry, according to Phillip Pappas, the Small Business Center (SBC) Coordinator for Chatham County. Located at Central Carolina Community College’s Pittsboro campus, the Chatham SBC offers free confidential counseling services to anyone who wants to start or grow a small business. It’s part of a network of SBCs across the state and the country.
“All the credit goes to Sherrie because she is incredibly hard-working,” Pappas said. “I’ve never seen someone go from concept to opening so quickly. That is extraordinarily difficult.”
The feat of efficiency was also accomplished as Hatfield worked full-time and completed her weekly three-hour Spark classes. Those classes included developing a detailed business plan and pitch for a group of business professionals.
“Sherrie certainly came prepared and had the ideas,” Pappas said. “Spark just helped her with the business side of it.”
According to Hatfield, the classes were eye-opening because they showed her the level of detail and bookkeeping necessary to run a business. After completing the course, she said seeing her efforts and sacrifices pay off was an emotional experience.
“I never thought I would be here, I really never thought I could be here,” Hatfield said. “I did this through determination. I knew I wanted it and I had that fire burning. I couldn’t do anything else until I got this done.”
The new restaurant owner said the grit she put into getting Down Town Café open gave her a new perspective — now she’s working for herself. In the future, Hatfield said she would love to see the space expand and pass the ownership of it along to her children.
“We want to carry on the legacy,” Hatfield said with her 7-year-old daughter at her hip. “Opening this place was kind of like magic in a way, it couldn’t have happened any better.”
If there are other aspiring entrepreneurs out there also hoping to bring their big ideas to Siler City, Hatfield’s message is simple: go for it. She said the fear of starting something new is worth it in the end because of the support she and other entrepreneurs received from the Chamber of Commerce and other town staff.
Down Town Café is currently open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday with daily specials and desserts. For more information call 919-542-3428.
Reprinted with permission from Chatham News + Record