Some people might wilt after just a few years in the intense environment of retail food service, but not Susan Eichler. Celebrating the 15th anniversary of her Hacienda business, Sweet & Savory Cafe and Bakery, she's as enthusiastic as ever about the quality of food she offers, the people who help prepare and serve it, and the customers who regularly stop by 5694 Stoneridge Drive for a freshly made meal at breakfast or lunch.
Eichler, a graduate of Cal State Hayward before it became Cal State East Bay, worked in a variety of food service venues during and after college. At one point she left the corporate world for a stint as a restaurant server ("I made more money," she laughs), a move that gave her the free time to devote to catering, a long-germinating dream. For a while she baked cakes and other desserts and cooked for friends.
"Then, in 1993, my father and I decided that the timing was right to open our own business," she recalls. "From my previous jobs in and out of college, I have the clear memory of being in a business park setting with nowhere to go for lunch. I kept thinking, 'Wouldn't it be great if there were a place that served fresh, not fast, food?' We were looking for a spot and saw Hacienda. That meant we could operate during daytime hours, another big plus, so we said 'why not?'"
With help from other family members and friends, Eichler and her father launched her vision in a 1,000-sf storefront tucked into Hacienda Plaza. The original intent was to sell mostly desserts, with a limited assortment of sandwiches and salads. Ultimately, though, customer appetites dictated what went on the menu, and lunch selections multiplied.
"It took about three years to build the business," Eichler continues. "We were surprised - even though our first location wasn't very visible, there was a line out the door every day."
In 1996 the cafe moved around the corner of the building to its current address, just about tripling in size. When the adjacent business closed, knocking through a shared wall created more room for catering and seating.
With the exception of a few specialty items like bagels and rye bread, Eichler and her crew make all the food on the premises, from mayonnaise and soups to roasted meats for sandwiches. "I'm very conscientious about the ingredients we use - for instance, olive oil, not trans fats, wherever possible," she pledges. Right now she's revising salad dressing recipes to make them entirely sugar-free.
Sugar is less a concern when it comes to the tempting baked goods. In the "old days" Eichler used to arrive at 3:15 every morning to make the pastries. Now a full-time baker produces the tempting scones, muffins, cinnamon rolls, turnovers, tarts, etc. , that keep her customers happy.
Reflecting on the landmark anniversary, Eichler muses, "It was always my dream to sell quality and build the business through word of mouth. We're very fortunate to be able to do that."
For a menu, hours, and catering details, visit www.sweetandsavory.com .
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