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Making ends meet in this sluggish economy is tough enough for individuals, but it causes even more of a challenge for small businesses.
Still, some are meeting that challenge by finding a niche – a product or service – that, coupled with hard work, determination and the ability to adjust to an ever-changing environment, allows them to keep going.
Several local restaurants are finding ways to stay afloat even though they are located off the beaten path.
Take, for example, Beth Keith, owner of Pizza Zone in Buffalo.
“When I started my business here 15 years ago, we were the only pizza place that delivered to most of LaRue County,” Keith said.
After the larger franchise chains came in that delivered throughout LaRue and even into parts of neighboring counties, Keith adapted in several ways to meet the needs of her customers.
She offers daily specials, including deals listed on the eatery’s Facebook page. Her menu goes beyond pizza to include 15 house sandwiches and salads, from ham and cheese to steak supreme.
“When people buy a pizza from here, they’ll see that we have more toppings than the other pizza places,” she said. “They measure how much topping to add while we ‘free-style,’ making sure it looks right to me before it goes into our brick oven which also adds to the taste of the pizza.”
Keith said that other businesses’ closing in Buffalo and those moving to other locations have also proved a challenge. She has cut her staff to where only family work there now. One of her hardest working employees and public relations helpers is her mom, Ruth Wortham, who at 82 years old, is in the store each day, helping wherever needed.
“We have regular customers who come in and enjoy talking with Mom as much as eating,” Keith said.
One of them, Karen Henderson, first ordered from Pizza Zone because it was the only place that delivered to her home in Mt. Sherman. She has remained a loyal customer because, “They really have good pizza.”
Sherry Logsdon, co-owner of Country Charm Cafe in Upton, said the economy has proved to be her restaurant’s greatest challenge.
“People can’t come from very far when they’re paying $4 for a gallon of gas,” said Logsdon, who owns the restaurant with her husband Bruce, her brother Jeff Hisel, and his wife Linda.
They opened May 28, 2007, providing not only a restaurant for the residents of that section of LaRue and Hardin County, but also a place where people in the community could meet, eat, and fellowship.
“Our goal is to provide, besides good food, a pleasant atmosphere and good service,” said Logsdon.
The owners offer karaoke every Saturday evening for a three-dollar cover charge. People can sing and/or listen and, if they want to eat in a quieter atmosphere, they can move to the restaurant’s other dining room.
“We also offer specialties such as the Big Bruce Burger – a half pound of ground beef and fresh, breaded mushrooms,” said Logsdon.
Local farmers and others must like the service. Logsdon said that though the restaurant doesn’t start serving breakfast until 8 a.m., several farmers and local business people regularly arrive as early as 7:15 to make a pot of coffee and talk while waiting for their food.
Roanoke Food Mart
Charlie Nunn, owner of Roanoke Food Mart on Dan Dunn Road, offers a menu and atmosphere that is different from most local restaurants.
“I mainly sell deli meats and sandwiches while I’ll add chili, soup and sloppy joes in the winter,” said Nunn who has owned the business for nine years. “I’ve had parents tell me when they feed their kids packaged bologna, their children will say, “I don’t want this; it isn’t Charlie bologna!”
Nunn also touts his homemade chili and potato soup that tastes “like what Mama used to make.”
His location in a rural section of LaRue County – 10 miles each way from Hodgenville, New Haven and Elizabethtown – would itself seem a challenge, but not necessarily so according to Nunn, mainly because of the products he offers.
“I’ve had people drive in from Hodgenville just to get my sandwiches,” he said. “The meat I use in the sandwiches is fresh cut, not packaged, plus being a mart, people can also get some groceries at the same time.”
The economy is also his biggest challenge.
“Though I do make a living, it’s not a get-rich business,” he said. “Some months it’s a matter of barely making ends meet.”
As a reminder, he still has the dollar bill that was his entire federal refund from the first year he owned the business which he bought in 2002.
Elizabeth Akers, who co-owns Green Akers Cafe in Mount Sherman with husband Kenny, said for a small business like hers to survive, it must be a “destination” restaurant.
“You’ve got to offer something that will make people want to come to your place especially for whatever it is you’re offering,” she said.
Green Akers, due to its proximity to Green County, attracts customers from Summersville and Greensburg as well as LaRue County.
Since opening in November 2010, Green Akers’ menu has included such specialties as the Sherman Burger, a bacon cheeseburger with grilled red onion, jalapenos and peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter.
“My dad saw a similar recipe in a magazine somewhere,” said Akers. “We tried it, and it’s good.”
She also offers as many homemade items as possible, including her biscuits and gravy which has “just a touch of spiciness.”
Offering a full breakfast and lunch every day, Akers finds her customers’ most popular menu items are open-faced roast beef plates, hash browns, peanut butter pancakes with homemade blueberry syrup, and bacon egg platters.
The cafe also serves a buffet every Saturday evening.
“We must be aware of the price we charge, so we can make a living and yet serve meals at reasonable prices,” she said. “We also have a Facebook page to get our name and what we offer out there.”
Customers can also reserve the cafe for parties.
“It’s a challenge, but you must keep coming up with different things,” she said.