‘Family’ of employees and customers rallies to save a beloved Utah diner

The staff at Janet’s Sunshine Cafe in North Salt Lake keeps the doors open while the owner is hospitalized.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lisa Adamson serves a cinnamon granola pancake, at The Sunshine Cafe, in North Salt Lake, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.

At Janet’s Sunshine Cafe in North Salt Lake, the owner’s name is on the logo, but she hasn’t been in her usual perch of the last 16 years — the kitchen — for a few weeks.

Janet Barmore was hospitalized in January, her staff said. The cafe’s 13 employees have banded together to keep the cafe going as before — serving bacon, eggs, omelettes, and the cafe’s popular whole-wheat granola “magic pancakes” — while she recuperates. (Out of respect for Barmore’s privacy, the employees aren’t giving details about her health problem, except that it’s not related to COVID-19.)

“Everyone works really well together, and we try to help each other out. … Everyone’s on board to make it work,” said Katie Tucker, a former customer who’s been a server at the cafe for the last three years. “One of the most common things customers say is, ‘Are you guys all family?’ We always laugh and say, ‘Kinda, but not really.’”

That “family” of employees and customers has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for help Barmore through what is likely to be a long recovery. They set a goal of $20,000, and after two weeks (as of Tuesday), the campaign has raised $10,880 in pledges.

The cafe’s core staff includes Tucker; host/cashier Shelby Tugaw, who’s worked there for three years; server Lisa Adamson, who’s been here for 16; and Brittanie Hartwell, who has cooked elbow-to-elbow with Barmore for eight years.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Raquel Brady serves food at The Sunshine Cafe, in North Salt Lake, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.

Hartwell said she’s become “an interim Janet, which are big shoes to fill because there’s so much she’s always had control of, and done everything.”

To give Hartwell a break, one much-needed day off each week, the cafe has cut its Saturday hours while Barmore is out. Most days, Hartwell arrives between 4:30 and 5 a.m. to prep the ingredients she’ll need throughout the day, as she makes breakfast items, burgers, soups, salads and dressings — all from scratch.

The doors open at 7 a.m. and, Tucker said, “we’re pretty busy right off the bat. … We serve about 150 to 170 people a day, and on the weekends, we serve between 250 to 280. Our little cafe only seats 37 people, so we’re working really hard and really fast to get people in and fed and well taken of, and then get them on their way.”

On average, Tucker said, about half of the diner’s customers are regulars, people who have been eating there for the last 16 years — 17 in May. They definitely come for the food, but beyond that, they feel a deep connection to Barmore.

Barmore never wanted to do anything but open a cafe. At 15, she got her first job at a bowling alley in Bountiful, but her favorite place was the coffee shop — and she decided her dream was to open a little mom-and-pop comfort food diner.

In 2005, she bought the Sunshine Cafe, at 20 S. Orchard Drive, in North Salt Lake. “The name was already on the sign when she bought it,” Adamson said, “and she didn’t want to replace the sign, so she just added ‘Janet’s’ to [the name]. She would love to fly all over the world, but she doesn’t have time, and she loves airplanes, so she added that to the logo.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Cinnamon Granola Pancake, at The Sunshine Cafe, in North Salt Lake, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.

Hartwell prepares the dishes for which Sunshine is known, including biscuits-and-gravy and peanut butter squares, she can’t do everything Barmore usually does — like going out to the outdoor charcoal grill, no matter the weather, to barbecue tri-tip steaks for Friday’s special.

“If she wasn’t doing something in the cafe, she was doing something at home for the cafe,” Tucker said. With what they think will be a long recuperation, Tucker added, “our goal is to keep the cafe up and functioning.”

That includes making sure customers feel they can still connect with Barmore.

“We have a big, huge card that we got for Janet for people to sign,” Tucker said. “We had to go get extra pieces of paper, because we were just out of room. Our customers just want to do whatever they can for her, which is really cool.”

Janet’s Sunshine Cafe

Address • 20 S. Orchard Drive, North Salt Lake.

Phone • 801-936-0915.

Website • sunshinecafeutah.com

Hours • Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; closed Saturdays (temporarily); Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.