Townhouse Cafe celebrating 60 years of business in 2022

Good home cookin’. Good people. Good atmosphere. Good times.

All four are served up Tuesday through Sunday when Townhouse Cafe in Seymour is open for business.

Whether you’re in the mood for breakfast, a lunch special or piece of pie, homemade dishes can be whipped up by one of the talented cooks in the kitchen.

When you walk in the door of the restaurant at 206 E. Fourth St., one of the friendly employees will greet you. And there’s a good chance they will know your name and ask if you want “your usual.”

In 2022, Townhouse Cafe will celebrate 60 years in business.

Valerie Hollowell, who has owned the business with her wife, Karen, since 2014, said one of the things she credits to the longevity of the restaurant is “really strong, hardworking women.”

Betty Haws Lebline started the business 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. Then Karen’s aunt, Connie Stockhover, and her husband, Mark Stockhover, owned it from 1996 to 2014.

“It’s a lot to be a business owner. It’s even more to be a restaurant owner,” Hollowell said.

“Then I think to go through some of the things that the women have gone through in moving locations and changing menus and raising prices and having to sell it to someone else to keep it alive and all that kind of stuff, like Connie ran it for 20 years and she did a great job with it and really built the name and the reputation up, so I really think just some really strong women,” she said.

They all had good work ethic, and perhaps most important, they all knew how to cook, Hollowell said, smiling.

“There’s some stuff that you can’t read in a textbook. You just have to have a knack for it,” she said. “Luckily, we’ve had some really good cooks come through here. I really do think it’s the consistency of the people and the food that have helped it go six decades.”

The female owners over the years also have been connected, either as family or co-workers.

“The 12 men, they didn’t run it. All they did was keep the door open so they could come in and eat and have coffee, but (Sterling) still ran it,” Hollowell said.

“Connie worked for Betty when she was a little girl. She learned how to make pies and all that kind of stuff. Then eventually, she ended up owning the place and running it herself, so it has stayed in a line of women that have had something to do with it or family-related or something like that,” she said. “This place has a lot of little cool facts about it.”

From the beginning, the restaurant’s food has been homemade.

“I think it’s something that people really crave and yearn — that home cooking — and they just don’t get it very much,” Hollowell said. “It’s expensive to cook for a small family, one or two people. It’s expensive to buy all of the groceries and all of the ingredients to do that, so here, we have your home cooking, feel-good food all of the time.”

At chain restaurants, the same food offerings can be found at any of their locations. Local places like Townhouse Cafe, however, offer unique menu items that people come to know, love and crave.

“I think that’s what we bring to it is a totally different flavor,” Hollowell said. “Here, it’s very unique to this area. People grew up with it. Our coconut and peanut butter cream pies are homemade. They are big sellers here. They know what they taste like at our restaurant. I just think that consistency is really what has held this together the best.”

Those are two of the five pie flavors available each day Townhouse Cafe is open, and customers also can place an order for a whole pie among nearly 15 flavors.

“We had a request for a cottage cheese pie the other day, and we figured that out and made that for a customer, so we’ll make any kind of pie you want us to make,” Hollowell said, smiling.

Of all of the items on the menu, she said the No. 1 seller is the breaded tenderloin sandwich.

“It’s bigger than your face. That’s how we advertise it on the menu. It is huge,” Hollowell said with another smile. “That’s our No. 1 seller hands down.”

After that, the next most popular choice is breakfast. Hollowell said not many places serve breakfast the entire time they are open.

The regular lunch specials, including homemade chicken and noodles, country fried steak, salmon patties, beef Manhattan and turkey Manhattan, also are frequently ordered.

On weekends, the specials rotate between items like lasagna, stuffed chicken breast and pork chops.

For about 25 years, Donna Brewer has worked in the kitchen as a cook at Townhouse Cafe. She said she has worked in restaurants quite a bit, including bartending at Chatterbox when she learned Townhouse needed a cook.

“This was close enough I could walk to work and to (Chatterbox),” she said.

Her favorite food to make is chicken and noodles because customers really like it. They also like ordering meatloaf, ham and beans and salmon patties.

“A lot of people don’t make that at home anymore,” Brewer said. “A lot of people are busy, especially if they’ve got kids or grandkids, and they may not have time to fix a homemade lunch or breakfast.”

They like going to Townhouse Cafe, where it’s homemade by people they know.

“It’s all good,” Brewer said, smiling, about the restaurant’s food offerings.

Kelly Bolte also has worked at Townhouse Cafe for about 25 years. She’s a waitress.

“I came in here with a friend. Connie was back here running around ‘I don’t have enough waitresses,’ and I was like, ‘Well, I need a job,’ so it just worked. They started feeding me every day, so I just kept coming back like I was a doggone stray cat,” she said, smiling.

So why has she stayed there for 25 years?

“Because I love the people. I’ve got the best customers. I’ve got good co-workers,” Bolte said.

And why has Townhouse Cafe been going for 60 years? She said the home-cooked food and entertainment provided by the employees draw people in and keep them coming back.

“My regulars keep coming back,” Bolte said. “I started when they were in the little baby seat, and now, they are having babies of their own.”

Laurie Brewer, who is Donna’s daughter, has worked at Townhouse Cafe full time for nearly 17 years, including the past year as manager. She worked part time before she started full time and began as a cook.

“I think the family kind of atmosphere environment just makes it easy,” Laurie said. “The customers are easy to deal with, too. It’s just a nice little place with all of the locals … the good food. I think it’s a good show all around.”

Hollowell gives a lot of praise to her employees, especially those who returned after last year’s three-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A month before the pandemic started, the Hollowells had paid off the restaurant from where they bought it from the Stockhovers.

“I’m very grateful for our staff that came back,” Valerie said. “I’m glad that they got three months off to rest and be healthy in the time of a pandemic. Then when I sent out the message that ‘Hey, we’re ready, we’re going to do this again, we’re reopening,’ I’d say 95% of the staff was on board, was there, ‘What do you want us for?’ They came back, we cleaned the restaurant and we had it all put together and ready to go.”

They could have gone to work somewhere else or stayed home and collected unemployment checks, but they came back to work and made it happen, Hollowell said of her 18 employees.

“I think that’s one thing that makes Townhouse special is when you walk through the doors, you see a lot of the same faces that you’ve seen, so to me, the consistency in the food and the atmosphere helps,” she said. “That’s really the heart and soul of the restaurant is that the staff has stayed here.”

Once Townhouse reopened, Hollowell made some changes to the menu, and she decided to close on Monday to make life a little easier as an owner and to give the employees a day off.

The interior of the restaurant changed, too, from new kitchen equipment to painting the dining room walls and changing the tables and chairs.

Next year, Hollowell said the exterior will be the focus, including painting the building, putting up a new sign above the entrance and redoing the parking lot. That way, Townhouse Cafe will shine by the time a special 60th anniversary celebration event is set.

Starting in January, some former menu items will be brought back as monthly specials, and there will be giveaways and raffles.

“We’re going to celebrate the whole year,” Hollowell said.