A close-knit Amish community and a forgotten old building in Sugarcreek, Ohio, lead to a fresh start for a young widow and her children at the Honey Bee Café.
- Posted on May 26, 2015
I’d always dreamed of having my own café, a place where I would serve healthy lunches and great coffee, befriending the customers. I could set my own hours and have plenty of time with my two young sons.
For two years, ever since my husband, Gerry, died of injuries from a car accident, I’d been running our remodeling business in the Columbus, Ohio, suburbs on my own. Successfully, but it took up so much of my time—time I would rather be spending with my boys.
The more I thought about it, the more I was sure we needed a fresh start. Someplace different. Someplace far away, where there wouldn’t be constant reminders of Gerry and how much we missed him. I sold the remodeling business. My plan was to move to a big city with a thriving coffee culture that would provide a customer base for my café.
So why were Mom and my sister Patty trying to get me to stay in Ohio? Why wasn’t anyone listening to me? Why wasn’t God listening to me? They all knew what I wanted. I’d told them.“I know you want to move,” Patty said. “How about closer to all of us? You need family around you.” She kept tossing me suggestions, places she’d heard were up for sale.
Her latest? Some building in the heart of Ohio Amish country, in the town of Sugarcreek, near where we grew up. “It’s right on Main Street. Used to be a hardware store, so it’s roomy,” she said. “Perfect for your café. Come take a look!”
I agreed mainly to get her off my back. One spring day in 2012 I drove the two hours to Sugarcreek and parked at 993 West Main Street. A three-story structure with a sagging front porch. What a wreck! I thought. I would’ve turned around and driven off if Patty and the real-estate agent hadn’t been waiting with such hopeful expressions on their faces.
The place did not look much better on the inside. “This building is one hundred and fifty years old,” the agent told me.
And definitely showing its age. What the place needed—new roof, new floors, new everything—went beyond an extreme makeover. “Thank you, but this isn’t going to work for me,” I told the agent.
But the whole two hours back to Columbus, I couldn’t stop thinking about that old building. Visualizing it coming to life. Neighbors having coffee on the porch. Tourists stopping by for my bacon-apple-and-cheddar grilled cheese. The boys and me living on the top floor, their after-school snacks coming from my café menu.
Thank you for your patience, God, I prayed. I get it now. I’m the one who wasn’t listening.
I called the real-estate agent and put in an offer. It was accepted. Construction started in February 2013. I hired a four-man Amish crew that Gerry and I had worked with. We tried to preserve the character of the building, reusing old cabinets, windows and doors.
Soon I was on a first-name basis with Marlin at the lumberyard. Folks came right over to say hello. Amish families stopped by to wish us well. A Mennonite woman brought us homemade soup. It felt healing to be in a small town where everyone knew and cared about their neighbors. And to be closer to my family. My sister was right. The best customer base I could ever hope for was right here.
My siblings and I came up with the name Honey Bee Café—in honor of our dad, who kept bees as a hobby. I put together the menu, including honey muffins, honey oatmeal cookies and the Honeycomb, a custom coffee concoction sweetened with vanilla syrup and honey. Now to find a honey supplier.
One afternoon a man I recognized from Winfield United Methodist Church, Mr. Andrews, drove up in his truck. “I run an apiary,” he said. “I hear you need honey.”
I wanted everything else to be locally grown and made too, to support the community that had welcomed my boys and me. Produce and cheese from Amish farms. Fresh bread from the Dutch Valley Bakery.
The Honey Bee Café opened last July. It’s more than a coffee and sandwich shop. It’s a gathering place for folks to listen to music (we have a piano for anyone to play) or meet up after choir practice. And of course, it’s our home.
When I told Mom that the boys and I were moving to 993 West Main Street in Sugarcreek, she said, “That’s the old hardware store, right? You know who used to live on the top floor?”
I had no idea.
“Your great-grandma Ida. I used to visit her there.”
No wonder I felt so at home.
Recently I got a call from the editor of Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries, a series of novels featuring two women, an Englisher and her Amish friend, who work together to solve mysteries set here in town. The editor wanted to include the café and me in the books.
I couldn’t be more thrilled. There’s a scene where one of the sleuths comes to the Honey Bee for her favorite bacon-apple-and-cheddar grilled cheese. Now, that’s a woman after my own heart.
Try Kathy's Chewy Honey Oatmeal Cookies at home!
Learn more about the Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries, a new series from Guideposts Books!
Did you enjoy this story? Subscribe to Guideposts magazine.