Wharton: Sharon's Cafe offers an entertaining breakfast
Funny signs that hang from the walls of friendly family-owned diners often can be a good indicator that the food will be good and the dining experience entertaining.
That's why I immediately knew I was going to enjoy eating breakfast at Sharon's Cafe in the heart of Holladay.
Consider a few of the signs on the wall:
"Husband and dog missing, reward for dog."
"Drink coffee, do stupid things faster and with more energy."
"There is a $5 charge for whining."
I don't suspect there's much whining at Sharon's. This little diner, open only for breakfast and lunch, is operated by Sharon Ahearn, whose daughters and daughter-in-law wait tables. On the weekends, her attorney-husband, Chris, works the cash register. In fact, the couple even got married inside the diner.
Strangers often get called "hon" or "sweetie" as they get their coffee mugs filled.
"I do that because I can't remember the names," Sharon joked. "It's easier to do that. But some say that 'I'm not your sweetie.' "
Part of the name-remembering issue is that the diner features 50 or so regulars, many with the same name.
"We've got at least seven Daves, Dons and Als," she said.
So Sharon and her staff sometimes give nicknames based on the color of creamer some of the regulars use. Thus, there might be blue Dave or green Dave. There are also little Dave and handyman Dave. The four Dons who like to sit at the counter sometimes all look up at once when someone talks to "Don."
She has helped some regulars, many of them retired seniors, move into senior living centers. If everyday customers don't show up for a few days, Ahearn will call them to make sure everything is OK.
"I'd go broke if I had a senior discount," she said, laughing. "They become our family."
Indeed, how many diner owners trust their customers enough to give one of them a key? That's what Sharon did to a few of her regulars. She worried because they were lining up in the cold waiting for her to show up to open the place by 6:30 a.m. Now, on many mornings, the coffee is already made and a few regulars are in place when she arrives.
Sharon grew up in these small "mom-and-pop places," as she calls them. Her dad ran the gas station on one part of Knudsen's Corner across from the Cotton Bottom and what was then a diner called Smith's where my Aunt Ethel once spoiled me with grilled cheese sandwiches and penny candy. Sharon's mom, Lucy Stoddard, worked in diners much of her life.
After managing or waiting tables at a few local diners, Sharon decided to take a chance on opening her own business when the old Corey Anderson pie building became available.
The idea was that she wanted nights off so she could watch one of her daughters play basketball for Olympus High.
While there is nothing fancy on the menu the most expensive items are $7.75 for steak and eggs or pork chops and eggs Ahearn has learned a bit from nearly every place she has worked. Some of the menu items are different.
For example, there is Sharon's Special, consisting of two eggs, marinated pork tenderloin, potatoes, a fresh tomato and feta cheese. At lunch, a muffuletta sandwich is made from a secret recipe. The scones are great. I loved the Greek Way special, which includes home fries topped with melted Swiss and cheddar, two eggs and either ham, bacon or sausage. The smothered breakfast burrito wasn't bad, either.
Mostly, though, I loved the feeling inside the little restaurant with its red-and-white-striped tables, old license plates, Harley-Davidson signs and a painting of Sharon, no doubt done by a loyal customer, hanging on the wall.
In an age of sterile franchises, a place where you are immediately called "hon" and "sweetie" is worth savoring.