Sugar Mamas’ Coffee Cafe reminded me of my Aunt Helen’s kitchen when I walked in for the first time this week. There were plates of pies and cookies, a funky bottle collection, and a busy kitchen crammed with pots and pans and hot food ready to be served. But the most prominent feature (like the character who was my Aunt Helen), were these two women who run the place, sisters Michelle Schmitt and Zelda Nelson. Besides the comfort food they put their hearts and souls into, these two are the real attraction of this tiny cafe with a big presence. Their zany friendliness is palpable and the experience is like catching the aroma of a blooming Daphne bush. It hits you. Good energy.
When asked how their business began, Michelle answered, “We’re sisters. We can’t help it.” The two prepare a range of food that could serve every meal of the day, but they consider their specialty to be breakfast. “We’re not a deli, we’re a breakfast cafe.” Their cooking style is described as, “Southern comfort food mixed with Northwest eclectic. Which means we get to make whatever we want.” [giggles] Their pride in good cooking is backed up by a strong interest in serving fresh and local products, which they often purchase from farmers markets.
If you have a sweet tooth, you won’t be surprised to hear that this place is for you. I took home some breakfast cookies (yep, breakfast cookies!), chocolate chip cookies, and rhubarb pie to enjoy with my family. “Yum!” all the way around.
The idea of the business started with cookies, then expanded to a coffee cart. They ultimately launched the business as a full-kitchen cafe. An important factor in this decision is the high cost of a satellite kitchen. The shop has the space, so a full service cafe with an on-premise kitchen made good business sense.
Michelle and Zelda take pride in the neighborhood and are vocal about their part in its improvement. They are on a first-name basis with many of the locals and say that the neighborhood is much nicer than it was when they opened for business over two years ago. From the vantage point of one of their sidewalk bistro tables, the atmosphere is inviting. And as the “Home of the $1.00 Bottomless Cup”, the cafe serves as a great place to read, visit, or do some work. The shop is located on the corner of SW Alder & 13th, the last corner before heading West over I-405. You really should visit the shop to eat, and then call Portland Pedal Power for deliveries when you can’t make it in person. PPP hosts a selection of Sugar Mamas’ most popular menu items for order and delivery throughout Downtown Portland and the Pearl District.
In addition to offering bicycle delivery to expand their business and better serve their customers, Sugar Mamas’ run an email newsletter with a growing following. The newsletter announces fresh specials, occasional cheesecake and pie “throw-downs” (friendly competitions with other shops to benefit charities), and rewards for loyal customers. Ask to be placed on their mailing list when you visit, or send them an email.