It was a freezing, dark and depressing day in December of 2009 when Chris Heeder, owner of , took over the former Pic-A-Deli location at the corner of Walton and Adams.
What waited inside wasn't much better.
The place was in need of some serious attention ("Oh! The colors in here!" Heeder remembered with a wince.)
But after five years away from the restaurant business, Heeder was ready and excited for the challenge. And fortunately, he had some experience to go on.
A new name
Heeder closed the business for a day and a half for renovations, including new colors. He also changed the name to Half Day Cafe.
"That was the biggest risk, to change the name. Pic-A-Deli had recognition and here we were changing it to something no one has heard of," Heeder said. He no longer owned the rights to his previous restaurant, Ridley's Cafe in Troy, so he decided to go with a name that "sums it up."
"Half Day Cafe says it all because we're open for breakfast and lunch."
He was also gradually tweaking the menu — careful not to pull the rug out on loyal Pic-A-Deli customers — and finding inspiration all around.
"My California Thai Chicken sandwich was inspired by California Pizza Kitchen," Heeder said.
(With grilled chicken breast, Thai peanut sauce, shredded carrots, grilled onion, melted provolone cheese and crushed peanuts on homemade sourdough, it's my absolute favorite.)
And while some of the names have remained the same — many menu items are named after nearby neighborhoods or local high school mascots — Heeder has upgraded the quality to the highest standards.
"Everything is predicated on quality," Heeder said. "My favorite menu items are the unique ones, things you can't find everywhere else."
So while the turkey rueben a.k.a. The Hawthorn might be the most popular menu item, Heeder's personal favorite is the Peppadew Pepper Wrap made with Peppadew, feta cheese, avocado, onions, artichokes, cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes.
"Our vegetarian items are amazing," Heeder said. In addition to 10 vegetarian menu items, their Vegetarian Vegetable Soup is also offered daily.
One last change was to keep the cafe open on Sunday.
"The Sunday business has been great. The weekend brings all kinds of new business, but we really feel needed on Sundays," Heeder said.
In fact, the cafe's popular eight-top table is often occupied nonstop for the whole day.
The love story behind those muffins
While the homemade bread at Half Day Cafe is spectacular, taking each sandwich to the next level, it is the muffins displayed in front that hold a special place in Heeder's heart.
It was muffins that brought Heeder and his wife together.
"In the late 80s, Jacqui and her cousin made tea cakes and sold them to local grocery stores. The owner of Merchant of Vino, one of their customers, approached them and asked them to take over his failing muffin store. That became Ridley's Cafe," Heeder said. "It also happened to be one of my accounts as a food service salesperson."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Marriage and a very successful business partnership followed, but when in 2004 Jacqui wanted to focus on her art, they sold the Ridley's business to the cafe manager.
"I stayed out for five years and did a half-dozen other things. But in the end I wanted back in and when this opened up, I knew it was for me."
With a full restaurant, a busy catering business and a staff that has doubled in size, that dark December day seems much more than two years ago.
"I'm in the perfect place — great community, great customers and an amazing town," Heeder said.
Half Day Cafe, located at the corner of Walton and Adams, will be offering heart-shaped cookies, brownies and muffins, as well as gift baskets, for Valentine's Day.