BY RICK WRIGHT –
Next to an iconic 100-plus year old admired Victorian home in Cherry Hill, is a small quaint southern diner dishing up some of the biggest portions of the area’s finest genuinely homemade southern favorites and equally large hospitality! Sondra Nation has owned the café for seven years and hand makes the dishes served.
“We are known for great hamburgers,” said Sondra. “We have really big hamburgers. I don’t use hamburger meat, I use ground chuck on my burgers. It makes a big difference. We are also known for our onion rings. We hand batter all of our food. We don’t buy the frozen stuff already done up.”
The cafe has the real stuff, home cooking at it’s best.
“For my chicken fried steak, I go to the store, buy the roast. I have it cut and tenderized and then we hand batter it,” said Sondra. “Which is not like anything you get around here.”
Sondra found her way to the Polk County area when she and her husband wanted to move from California to be closer to their aging parents in Texas. Both were from Fort Worth originally.
“My husband retired, and we bought a place. We were both working in the San Francisco area,” said Sondra. “We bought a place in the foothills of the mountains. I went back to work at NBC Chico. It was one of those situations that I found out they will let you rule the world for $6.50 an hour. But I met a lot of good people and I learned a lot there.”
Sondra has lived abroad and on each coast, she explained. “I had lived all around. I had lived in Israel. Came back here and we got together in California. After he retired, our parents were getting on up there in age. They were in Texas. I told them I felt like one of those old elephants that has to go back to the home ground,” said Sondra. “We started looking for property and at the time, we didn’t find anything suitable in Texas. Everything was over priced, needed work. I had found Mena on the internet. I saw that the prices for homes was very reasonable or more in line with what we had to spend, living on retirement.”
“We came up here,” said Sondra. “We were so disappointed in not finding anything in Texas. On a whim we pulled in to one of the realtors in town and started looking around. We found this old Victorian Inn that is 100 years old. It has the big grandma wrap around porch.”
The Victorian charm and southern style living were a contrast to the west coast style Sondra left behind. “We were living in a redwood and glass house out in California,” said Sondra. “That’s quite a change. I didn’t say anything after we looked at the house. We were kind of camping out in our truck. That night my husband said, ‘Well, you know the only house I think I’d want to live in is that white one.’”
“So we went back that next day and put in an offer on it,” said Sondra. “We did the closing during the ice storm. We were trying to fax documents back and forth that would not fax and we thought we had to sell our home out there. Thinking it’s going to take a while to sell it. It took a week and a half. So we had to get out and there was no place to go.”
“We bought the place from Chris and Frankie Davis,” said Sondra. “They had raised their children there, so it’s a ‘homie home.’ Lots of children have been in that house. It’s lovely.”
Sondra’s husband passed in 2007 and that is when she considered opening the café but admitted, she is looking to retire and enjoy a less demanding lifestyle than running her own café.
“I want to retire,” said Sondra. “But the right people haven’t come along to snap it up. I’m hoping that the right people will… maybe some younger hands. Because there is a home that comes with it. It’s a good solid business. We’ve got a very good reputation for our food. We are very careful about what we serve, that it’s always good and it’s always fresh.”
“Every Friday from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. we serve our fish dinner,” said Sondra. “I make homemade desserts, homemade hushpuppies, coleslaw, pinto beans, French fries.” Sondra added that their fish is farm raised catfish, “that’s really nice and white and clean. People come for that.”
This last year, Sondra started opening on Sunday. “I do a Sunday lunch from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.,” said Sondra. “That pulls in a lot of people who just don’t want to get out of church and go home and cook. I try to mix up the menus. Last week I think I had chicken fried steak. This week I might have meatloaf, I’m not sure yet.”
“Today, the homemade desserts that I have are triple lemon cake, which is something I made up,” said Sondra. “and peach cobbler and chocolate cream pie.”
Customer service is something she takes seriously, too. “We treat our customers well,” said Sondra. “I want people when they walk in the door to feel welcome. We are open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. everyday, except Friday when we are open 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. So you can get that fish dinner into the evening. To reach Sondra at Sondra’s Cherry Hill Cafe call 394-1259.
Sondra has four workers that she says make all the difference at the cafe.
“Stacy Robbins, Jessica McCauley, Debbie Erwin and Debbie Cannon all work part time,” said Sondra. “We call Debbie Erwin ‘Deb Two’ because Debbie was here first. They really help me keep things perking along. I really appreciate them.”
“We get a lot of business from Wolf Pen Gap,” said Sondra. “So, we have a lot of four wheeler people that come in here… that get their gas and eat, then go up to the Fourche and come back to get their gas and food and take off back to Wolf Pen Gap. They’ll come in and see one of our hamburgers, like the Western Burger that has chicken fried bacon on it, or our Smokin’ Hot Burger that has hot cheese, and onion ring and batter fried jalapenos on it. They’ll take pictures and start sending it to people,” she smiled with pride.