Fleming's Cafe' Set to Open Soon
By Brent Frankenhoff
As many Amherst residents have noticed over the past few months, the former Amherst Café is returning to its earlier incarnation as Fleming’s Café, with a Blenker construction crew giving the entire building a makeover. New owners Holly Hurda and her cousin, Corey Shoemaker, purchased the building from Diane Stroik earlier this summer.
Hurda told the Community Spirit, “We don’t know the exact timeline, but we know that prior to functioning as a restaurant, the building also housed a pool hall and a milliner’s shop. Our grandmother, Katherine Fleming, purchased the café in 1954. Previously, she owned the root beer stand across from the Amherst High School. She and her husband Florian, affectionately nicknamed Sard, raised their three daughters— our moms, Sue and Mary Ann, and our aunt, Kathy—in the apartment above the restaurant. Katherine died in 1973, and the three sisters decided to sell the restaurant later that year.”
This wasn’t the first time that Hurda and Shoemaker considered purchasing the building. “Ten or so years ago, when Diane had the building for sale,” Hurda said, “I noticed the ad in the Spirit, called Corey, and joked that we should buy it. At that time, we were both living in Green Bay, and he was Executive Chef for the Atrium restaurants at Lambeau Field. Neither one of us really had intentions to move at that time, so we just laughed it off.”
In the intervening decade, Hurda and her husband returned to Amherst and started a family, while Shoemaker moved around the country, with his latest job being Executive Chef at the Okoboji Store in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Hurda said that while she didn’t have a purchase in her plans, “I saw the For Sale sign in the window, and since it is a nostalgic building for our family, I called Diane and asked if we could take a look. When I called Corey with the news of the café being for sale this time, he said, ‘Let’s do it!’ So here we are!”
The purchase and renovation process have provided a number of memories and surprises for not only Hurda and Shoemaker but also for their mothers and aunt. Shoemaker said, “Everyone is so excited. Bringing the family name back to downtown Amherst is a very special way to celebrate the legacy that Katherine created. It’s also been fun digging around in the building and finding many of the family’s items. Katherine’s dishes, original Buffalo China that’s too valuable to risk using and breaking; restaurant equipment, including the original malt machine; and some furniture, like an old candy counter, was unearthed in the basement. It has been a lot of fun discovering Katherine’s utensils and items she used daily, as they are definitely well-loved but are in excellent condition!”
The midst of a pandemic isn’t the ideal time to open a new business, let alone a restaurant, but Hurda said, “The opportunity presented itself and we just knew that we had to jump at our chance. We are lucky in that we have the benefit of knowing we will have procedures in place to keep everyone’s safety and comfort in mind.”
Diners familiar with the original Fleming’s menu can expect to see some “classics with a twist of modern,” Hurda said. “We will have daily lunch specials that are throwbacks, such as an open-faced hot beef sandwich, meatloaf, and baked chicken, for example. Other original favorites like the white bread fish sandwich will be on the menu. Chef Corey has also added a salmon BLT, homemade potato chips, and a Café Burger topped with braised short ribs and a sunny-side-up egg.”
Shoemaker said, “Katherine’s pies are still talked about around town, so those will be a staple for sure. We are also adding hard-scoop ice cream for malts, shakes, and the like. We looked into refurbishing the 1940s soda fountain that has been on-site since 1954, but the estimates for that project were over and above what we could do right now. We hope to revisit that idea in the future.
“Another important service line that we will be adding is the Box Lunch. We want to cater to area businesses that need a quick and delicious lunch for their employees and clients.
“We will offer on-line ordering. Advance notice will be greatly appreciated for larger orders!”
Hurda added that the café’s design “is based on Mid-Century Modern concepts, which we feel is perfectly aligned with our old-meets-new story. We want our guests to feel that nostalgia of being in an old home that is refreshed with modern amenities.”
At opening, tentatively scheduled for mid-November, the café’s hours will be Monday-Saturday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Afternoon and evening hours are still being determined, depending on a number of factors, including staffing. The dining room will also be available for evening dinner parties as a private rental.
The speedy pace of buying, refurbishing, and launching a new business had its own challenges for the pair, but Hurda said she and Shoemaker “know this is the right thing to do! It has been fun developing our business model on the fly and sharing our story with the community. Crafting our vision for Fleming’s Café and aligning that with what the community needs has been a very special experience.
“Our main philosophy is that we are here to be a part of the community, and we are here for the long haul. We want to offer a comfortable place for people to gather, to eat, to use as a resource, and where everyone always feels welcome.
“We have the original matchbook design that includes the tag-line that we will continue to use: ‘Fleming’s Café: Home cooking always pleases!’ ”