Sherri Cooper knew there would be challenges when she started Harvest Time Café Inc. in Watson, but with stubbornness and her love of cooking, she has developed loyal customers and a reputation for good, homemade food.
Through her hard work and “elbow grease”, Cooper found a location, turned it into a restaurant, found suppliers and financial backing, and started the business in March 2017.
So far, she has succeeded in her goal to never have anything processed nor deep-fried, while still continually developing a diverse menu of items for her loyal customers and family, including homemade pizzas, specials, and canned items all for take-out during the pandemic.
Along with wonderful customers and amazing children, Cooper’s faith plays a big part in keeping Harvest Time Cafe Inc. open.
“God wants me to keep going, that's for darn sure, because there are too many businesses closing and I'm not big enough to stay open on my own.”
Cooper has cerebral palsy, but she does not see that as a major obstacle. She has adapted her kitchen to fit her needs and Cooper’s customers and her children are always willing to lend a hand in order to see her succeed, she says; from washing dishes to pouring coffee to clearing tables. Supporting her children and grandchildren while having the freedom of being her own boss was one of the main reasons that Cooper wanted her own restaurant.
“I wanted the freedom to be able to sit down with [my kids]. I didn't want to be working 50 hours a week where they couldn't contact me or couldn't come to my house. Some days, my granddaughter will come in here and cook with me. And that's awesome.”
Cooper remembers her dad being available to their family while he ran his own business. She appreciated that when she was a child and now can give that to her children and grandchildren.
“If we needed to talk to him, we could go to his work and talk to him. And if one of us came in from out of town, we could still see him. So, I really admired that he had that freedom,” she says.
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Cooper still relies on her parents for cooking tips and recipe suggestions - “I can call them day or night and ask for a recipe or why this isn't working, or this isn't sealing.”
Even though Cooper has consistently worked in the restaurant industry for most of her life, she knew there were things that she needed to learn before starting her own restaurant. For other would-be entrepreneurs, Cooper advises them to find other people who are running the business they want to build and connect and learn from them.
“Spend a week there and see if they realize how much hard work it is and what's all involved from every aspect.”
While cooking is Cooper’s passion, there were other aspects of the business she had to learn about from ordering to paperwork to taxes. Through it all, Sagehill Community Futures was there for Cooper. A friend recommended them to her, says Cooper, and due to some financial challenges, she knew to go to them right away for advice, inspiration, and ideas.
“If there's a grant or a loan that I'm eligible for, they know about it, and the application is in my email before I even am aware that it's a thing...They promote the business on their page and through different measures. And they're all very sweet. They're all good people.”
They are on top of things, says Cooper, and genuinely care about business owners.