By BOB SMITH
Kitsap News Group
PORT ORCHARD — In Suanne Martin Smith’s grant application to the Kitsap Bank Edg3 Fund competition committee, the co-owner of Port Orchard’s Hand Made Cafe defined her business’s mission in short, simple words: It’s “all about the food.”
In October, Smith and her partner in business and life, Paul Robinson, will celebrate the restaurant’s fifth year serving South Kitsap residents and visitors in their quaint, funky and cheerful converted church at 537 Dekalb Street.
Smith said her business was created after her daughter was diagnosed as having a fructose allergy. After clearing out refrigerated and pantry items with fructose, not much remained. Going out to eat would be just as challenging.
The Hand Made Cafe, she said, doesn’t include fructose in any of its offerings. And everything item served at the restaurant is homemade, hence its quirky name.
Robinson, who is the restaurant’s chef, uses recipes from his grandmother’s favorite old cookbook and Smith’s Spanish father’s love of vegetable-laden meals with fresh ingredients. Smith said the team takes their mission to serve good food very seriously.
“We want our dishes to look good and to smell good,” she said. “It’s real food for real people.”
And she said her restaurant’s menu is a savior for families who visit en masse to the restaurant, usually on Sunday, its busiest day.
“Kids eat our food here. And what they don’t eat, they’ll eat later after taking it home.”
In their five years in business, Smith, Robinson and a crew of five or so (depending on the season) kitchen staff and servers are kept busy each day producing their down-home fare for the community. Lines for Sunday breakfast often creep out the front door.
But business has been so good in the 1895-era church that they’ve reached a ceiling to what they can deliver; Smith said just this week she had to turn down catering work because the Home Made Cafe is operating at peak capacity.
In their tiny kitchen is a 24-inch cooktop that’s inadequate for their needs. Storage space is limited. And their most critical issue is with cold storage — there just isn’t enough. Nevertheless, attesting to their faith in their business’s future, the couple bought the old building earlier this year.
That’s why Smith and Robinson have taken the leap into the small-business funding competition, which Kitsap Bank says will reward the winning business with a $20,000 grant. The restaurant and its owners are semifinalists, with an online vote ending Friday, Sept. 29 that will help determine the list of five finalists.
If the Home Made Cafe should win the competition, to be announced by the bank on Nov. 16, the grant funds will go to create a walk-in cooler and a new, larger cooking flat top — most likely a step up at 24-by-36 inches.
“Because of the success in our business,” Smith wrote in the grant request, “we are currently at a standstill with the equipment that we have to increase our numbers.”
Having to turn down catering work, which contributes significantly to their financial bottom line, is not a long-term key to success, she noted.
That’s where walk-in refrigeration space would make a difference. The cooler is planned to include an exterior access door — designed to minimize the impact to the structure’s unique design.
“We want to keep the integrity of the space that our customers love so much,” Smith said.
The church was originally built in Brownsville, dismantled in the mid-1930s and transported by barge to its site in Port Orchard.
So far, the Edge3 Fund has narrowed the competition of this region’s small businesses to 16 semifinalists.