Coffee chats

Souderton restaurant builds relationships

As Published in The Marketplace magazine

By Eileen R. Kinch

Souderton, PA — When Pam and Andy Brunner went into the restaurant business 17 years ago, they did so for a simple reason: they wanted to work for themselves.Pam and Andy BrunnerPam and Andy Brunner

Both were employed by a local plumbing company, with Andy as a commercial foreman and Pam in the bathroom design department.

After the Towne Restaurant in Telford, PA. went up for sale, Pam and Andy purchased it and began running a restaurant. Along the way, however, the Brunners discovered their customers and employees were hungry for family and community, not just for food.

The Brunners grew up in the Franconia area, surrounded by family and their Mennonite faith communities. They currently attend Ridgeline Community Church, a Southern Baptist Convention church which meets in the former Rockhill Mennonite Church building.

As Pam and Andy operated the Towne Restaurant, they noticed not everyone had the nurturing experience of family. The Brunners realized they had a gift of family and community to share and felt a sense of call to serve people by treating everyone in a loving manner.

The couple has three children, ranging in ages from 15 to 22, who have all helped with the family business. They started out by helping Andy in the kitchen, and eventually moved on to dishwashing and cleaning. Aaron, the Brunners’ daughter, now works full time in the kitchen. “She is a true asset in this position,” Pam said. “She understands the menu [and] food presentation and owns our philosophy of customer satisfaction.”

In 2013, Pam and Andy bought the Franconia Café and Market in Souderton. Expanding was one of the Brunners’ best successes, both financially and spiritually, as the two restaurants served at least 3,000 people weekly. They are thankful that the community accepted them “in two places, only a mile and a half apart,” Pam said, especially since there are a number of other locally owned restaurants in the area. The Brunners give back by sponsoring local sports teams and hosting benefit fundraisers.

The Brunners also recognize the importance of community within their business. They consciously cultivate a team environment for their employees and maintain an open-door policy. This sense of caring filters down to the way the staff treats customers—many of whom are regulars—by remembering their names and the details of how they prefer to pay. Pam and Andy strongly feel that being part of a community also means being a place “where the community wants to be.”

The community does want to be there: the bustling Franconia Café has 240 seats, including The Gathering Place, a closed-off space for holding parties, meetings, and other events, including MEDA’s Delaware Valley Network Hub’s Third Thursday breakfast series.

Pam and Andy continued to operate both restaurant locations until the summer of 2018, when they closed the Towne Restaurant. A variety of reasons went into the decision. Some were personal — the Brunners are caring for aging parents — and others were practical: managing two restaurants and 92 employees was a challenge.

Closing the Towne meant that some employees would be out of a job. This caused some sleepless nights, Pam admitted, since the Brunners want to treat their employees fairly and with dignity. The early July closing of the Towne was deliberate and designed to have the least impact on workers’ lives. As it turned out, some employees were planning to leave anyway, and others got jobs at the Franconia Café.

For the Brunners, running a business is about more than financial gain. They want to operate the Franconia Café in a way that embodies their Christian faith. They sense people are watching to see “how we act, how we react,” Andy said. This can be a challenge as they deal with unhappy customers.

On one exceptionally busy day, someone ordered chocolate chips, but the restaurant had run out. Pam informed the customer that they did not have the chocolate chips — and the man proceeded to shout angrily at her.

The verbal assault was so loud that the rest of the café became silent, and Pam stood quietly until the man left. Afterwards, other customers asked her how she could simply let this man shout at her. She told them, “He had a right to be upset,” and recognized that shouting back would not have helped the situation. Even difficult customers need to be treated with love.

The Brunners also try creative ways of engaging workplace conflict. After some employees clashed, the Brunners sat down with one employee to listen and hear what she needed. The employee was grateful for the process and commented that she had never previously had a boss who treated her this way.

Not every interaction with a customer or employee is a spiritual one, and it can take years to build trust, they admit. Pam and Andy are also quick to point out that they are not perfect. They make mistakes and miss opportunities. But they want their business practices and loving treatment of all people to reflect their Christian faith. As Andy said, he and Pam try to “live out our Christian walk; we share it when we can.”

Pam and Andy have known customers through births, sadnesses, and deaths. Sometimes they simply listen to people share, and other times, conversations have opened doors to discussions about the Bible or resulted in a quick prayer. The Brunners are sure some customers are not returning simply for food. “We don’t really sell food,” Pam observed. “We sell relationships.” ◆

Eileen R. Kinch is a freelance writer who lives in Lancaster County, PA.