Good home cooking. good people. good atmosphere. happy times.
All four are served Tuesday through Sunday when the Townhouse Cafe in Seymour opens its doors for business.
Whether you’re in the mood for breakfast, a special lunch or a piece of pie, homemade dishes can be prepared by one of the most talented chefs in the kitchen.
When you walk in the door of the restaurant at 206 E. Fourth Street, one of the friendly staff will greet you. And there’s a good chance they’ll know your name and ask if you want “as usual.”
In 2022, Townhouse Cafe will celebrate 60 years in business.
One of the things she credits for the restaurant’s longevity is the “really strong, hard-working women,” Valerie Holwell, who has owned the company with her wife Karen, since 2014, said one of the things she credits for the restaurant’s longevity.
Betty Haws Lebline began operating as Betty’s Townhouse in 1962, and then when 12 businessmen bought it from her, her daughter Joanne Sterling ran the day-to-day operation. It was then owned by Karen’s aunt, Connie Stockover, and her husband, Mark Stockover, from 1996 to 2014.
“It’s hard to be a business owner. It’s more than being a restaurateur,” Holwell said.
“Then I think of going through some of the things that women have been through moving locations, changing menus, raising prices, having to sell it to someone else to keep it alive and all of those things, like being running it for 20 years and doing a great job with it and really building a name and reputation, so I really think some really strong women are,” she said.
They all had good work ethic, and perhaps most importantly, said Holwell, smiling, they all knew how to cook.
“There are some things you can’t read in a textbook. You just have to have a knack for it,” she said. “Fortunately, we’ve had some really good chefs coming here. I really think it’s the consistency of people and food that has helped it last six decades.”
Owners have also been linked over the years, either as family or co-workers.
“The twelve men, they didn’t turn it on. All they did was keep the door open so they could come in and eat and have coffee, but (Sterling) still managed it,” said Holwell.
“Connie worked for Betty when she was a little girl. She learned how to make pancakes and all that kind of stuff. Then in the end, she ended up owning and running the place herself, so I stayed in a line of women who had anything to do with him or something to do with the family or something Like, “This place has a lot of cool facts about it.”
From the start, the restaurant’s food was homemade.
“I think it’s something that people really crave and crave — that home cooking — and they don’t get it very often,” Holwell said. “Cooking for a small family, one or two people, is expensive. It is expensive to buy all the groceries and all the ingredients to do it, so here we have home cooking and good food all the time.”
In a chain of restaurants, the same food offerings can be found at any of their locations. However, local places like Townhouse Cafe offer unique menu items that people know, love, and crave.
“I think that’s what we’re giving it a completely different flavor,” Holwell said. “Here, it’s so unique to this area. People grew up with it. The coconut cream and peanut butter pancakes are homemade. They’re big sellers here. They know what they taste like in our restaurant. I just think the consistency is what really made it all come together better.”
These are two of the five pie flavors available every day Townhouse Cafe opens, and customers can also place an order for a full pie from nearly 15 flavors.
“We got an order for a cottage cheese pie the other day, and we figured it out and did it for a customer, so we’ll make whatever kind of pie you want us to make,” said Holwell, smiling.
Of all the items on the menu, she said the number one seller was the rusk sirloin.
“It’s bigger than your face. That’s how we announce it on the list,” said Holwell with another smile. “This is our number one seller.”
After that, the next most popular option is breakfast. Not many places serve breakfast all the time they open, Holwill said.
The usual lunch specials are also ordered, including homemade chicken and noodles, fried steak, salmon patties, Manhattan beef, and Manhattan turkey.
On weekends, specials alternate between items such as lasagna, stuffed chicken breast, and pork chops.
For about 25 years, Donna Brewer has worked in the kitchen as a chef at Townhouse Cafe. She said she had worked in restaurants quite a bit, including the bartender at Chatterbox when she learned Townhouse needed a cook.
“This was close enough that I could walk to work and to (Chatterbox),” she said.
Her favorite food is chicken and noodles because customers really love it. They also love to order meatloaf, ham and beans, and salmon patties.
“A lot of people don’t do that at home anymore,” Brewer said. “Many people are busy, especially if they have children or grandchildren, and may not have time to prepare a home-cooked lunch or breakfast.”
They love going to Townhouse Cafe, as it is homemade by people they know.
“All good,” Pryor said with a smile of the restaurant’s food offerings.
Kelly Bolt has also worked at Townhouse Cafe for about 25 years. She is a waitress.
“I came here with a friend. Connie came back here running saying ‘I don’t have enough waitresses’ and I said, ‘Okay, I need a job’ so it worked. They started feeding me every day so I kept coming back like I was a stray cat , she said with a smile.
Why did you stay there 25 years?
“Because I love people. I have the best clients. I have good co-workers,” Bolt said.
And why has Townhouse Cafe been in business for 60 years? She said the home-cooked food and entertainment provided by the staff attract people and keep them coming back.
“My regulars just keep coming back,” Bolt said. “It started when they were in the toddler seat, and now, they have kids of their own.”
Laurie Brewer, Donna’s daughter, has worked at Townhouse Cafe full-time for nearly 17 years, including last year as a manager. She worked part-time before starting full-time and starting out as a chef.
“I think the family atmosphere makes it easy,” Lowry said. Easy to deal with customers too. It’s just a nice little place with all the locals…good food. I think it’s a good show all around.”
Holwell gives a lot of praise to her employees, especially those who returned after a three-month shutdown last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A month before the pandemic began, Hollowells paid for the restaurant they had bought from Stockholm.
“I am so grateful to our employees who are back,” Valerie said. “I’m glad they got three months to rest and be healthy in the time of the pandemic. Then when I sent a message saying ‘Hey we’re ready, we’ll do it again, we’ll reopen’, I’d say 95% of the staff were on board, and there they were, “What do I do? want us? They’re back, we’ve cleaned up the restaurant, got everything together and are ready to go.”
Holwell said of her 18 employees that they could have gone to work elsewhere or stayed home and collected unemployment checks, but went back to work and made it happen.
“I think that one thing that makes Townhouse special is when you walk through the doors you see a lot of the same faces I did, so the consistency in the food and the atmosphere helps,” she said. “It’s really the heart and soul of the restaurant that the staff stays here.”
Once Townhouse reopened, Holwell made some changes to the menu, deciding to close on Monday to make life a little easier as an owner and give employees a day off.
The interior design of the restaurant also changed from new kitchen equipment to painting the walls of the dining room and changing tables and chairs.
Next year, Holwell said the exterior will be the focus, including painting the building, placing a new sign above the entrance and redesigning the parking lot. This way, Townhouse Cafe will shine by the time its 60th anniversary is celebrated.
Starting in January, some previous menu items will be brought back as monthly specials, and there will be giveaways and raffles.
“We’ll be partying all year long,” Holwell said.