Business

Restaurant finding niche among eateries

Paul Robinson opened Home Made Cafè with his partner, Suanne Martin Smith, in October. - Chris Chancellor/Staff Photo
Paul Robinson opened Home Made Cafè with his partner, Suanne Martin Smith, in October.
— image credit: Chris Chancellor/Staff Photo

She saw a downtown with antique shops and quality restaurants.

But Suanne Martin Smith saw a void before she opened Home Made Cafè with her partner, Paul Robinson, on Oct. 17 on Dekalb Street.

She felt there was a lack of cafè options to serve people looking for breakfast and lunch.

That was not the impetus behind opening a restaurant on the bottom floor of the old church, though.

Martin Smith worked as an art instructor for six years at Gig Harbor Academy and owned a business where she finished murals before the Great Recession occurred. When that occurred, Martin Smith said she weighed the possibility of attending graduate school against opening a restaurant.

The latter always intrigued Martin Smith as she watched her father, who was of Spanish descent, prepare some of his favorite cuisines as an adolescent.

Meanwhile, Robinson started in restaurants as a teenager, where he worked his way from dishwasher to cook. The couple often discussed some of their preferred recipes at night, and Martin Smith began preparing a restaurant business plan as she considered graduate school.

That is when the plan began to unfold. Martin Smith was less than enamored with the cost involved with earning a master’s degree. In addition, one of her four daughters was experiencing complications after many meals. She learned her daughter suffered from fructose intolerance and began crafting fructose-free diet with Robinson. Both factors, Martin Smith said, contributed toward her leaning toward a restaurant.

“Food is something we think nurtures the soul,” she said.

The Vashon Island native still needed to find the ideal setting, though. They came across the vacant church and with her background in art, Martin Smith found herself captivated as an array of colors glistened off the stained glass.

Upon visiting the site again, Martin Smith and Robinson heard water pipes breaking in the building.

After contacting the owner, Robinson was able to turn off the water main. A relationship was established and the couple was able to lease the church with the idea that they would live upstairs with the restaurant in the basement.

Martin Smith said the location was intriguing because 9,000 people enter the nearby Kitsap County courthouse daily. The family moved into the church in March 2011, but a litany of issues ranging from permits to renovations kept the restaurant kept them from opening the restaurant for more than 18 months.

The 49-seat restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Based on strong customer response, Martin Smith said they also are open from 5:30-9 p.m. Friday for dinner.

She said there are six entrées, which vary, for dinner. Because the business is family run, Martin Smith said they only feature dinner on that night and take what she laughingly refers to as “Mental Health Monday” off.

Martin Smith and Robinson blended their cooking experience when creating the menu. She said an emphasis was to create a menu that featured as many items created from scratch as possible. Everything on the menu with the exception of the syrups is fructose free — there also are vegetarian options — and Martin Smith said much of it comes from local producers, as well.

They also wanted a breakfast that was different from the traditional pancakes and omelets others serve.

Home Made Cafè features a half-dozen different skillets that range from $6.99 to $9.99. Another breakfast specialty is Robinson’s biscuit and sausage gravy that runs $8.99.

The lunch menu, which features items that cost $9.99 or less, has a variety of salads, sandwiches, soups and some specialty items.

“[Robinson] can make a clam bisque that will melt your heart,” Martin Smith said.

She eventually hopes to expand — Home Made Cafè has a permit for outdoor seating — and Martin Smith would like to bring in someone to play music, such as a violinist, during the summer. Martin Smith also hopes to obtain a beer and wine license at some point.

But for now, the restaurant is all about ambiance. In addition to enjoying food, Martin Smith wants to create a venue where parents are comfortable bringing their children or relaxing while using the restaurant’s Wi-Fi.

“We don’t mind if you want to hang out and drink coffee,” Martin Smith said. “People really respond to us. It reminds a lot of people of their grandma’s house.”

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