IONIA — Dining at Aunt Stephie’s Cafe is a lot like eating at your grandmother’s house; the “down home” food is all made from scratch, there’s plenty of it and you feel as if you’re surrounded by friends and family.
Owned and operated by Stephanie and Jayson Nemeth, the restaurant features a quaint, small-town communal atmosphere that’s every bit as familiar and comfortable as a Sunday afternoon at grandma’s house ever was. That’s exactly the way the Nemeths like it.
“When people come in and have lunch, they’re not really just having lunch alone,” Stephanie Nemeth said. “They’re having lunch with the whole restaurant. I’ve seen it when it was really crowded and people will come in and sit down at a table with a stranger and by the time they leave they’ve made a new friend.
“I was kind of hoping it would be the kind of place where it was like eating at that one relative’s house, the one who’s a really good cook.”
Stephie’s opened its doors for the first time Oct. 18 of last year. It’s the first business for the Nemeths, though Stephanie has more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant business, experience that’s translating to quick success at her own eatery.
Stephie’s might never have happened, however, had it not been for the fact that the restaurant she previously worked at was being remodeled and sold. The remodel took so long that Stephanie started getting a little “stir crazy” without work.
“I was going to work for the new owner,” Nemeth said. “But they were taking a long time with the construction and I missed working. I was driving down main street and saw this empty restaurant and though, hmm, I could open a place there. I was scared to death, but now I’m glad I took the chance. Things are going great.”
Since opening, the Nemeths have tried a variety of offerings in search of the perfect blend, Nemeth said. All Stephie’s soups and chili are made from scratch, as are all the seasonal offerings, such as the currently popular strawberry shortcake on homemade biscuits and potato salad. Likewise, all burgers and coney dogs are made from fresh meat rather than frozen. It’s a distinction that sets Stephie’s apart from its national chain counterparts.
Ionia Chamber of Commerce Director Tina Conner-Wellman noted that the new downtown restaurant has not only been a success in and of itself, but also has helped create a stronger business community overall.
“Stephanie has been a community supporter for many years,” Conner-Wellman said. “When she decided to go with her passion and open her own restaurant, it was natural for Stephanie to have an immediate following. Aunt Stephie’s gives a boost to main street Ionia with its growing popularity. This restaurant features menu specialties and favorites to return for.
“Best of all,” she added, “when visiting, you can always count on friendly faces and acquaintances among the customers and staff.”
Aunt Stephie’s Cafe, at 219 W. Main St. in Ionia, is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.