Food & Drink

April 21, 2010

What's good here: Happy Cafe

For Sue Hodges, operating The Happy Cafe is more than just a business venture. It is about offering a quiet, inviting, culinary experience for the community.

For Sue Hodges, operating The Happy Cafe is more than just a business venture. It is about offering a quiet, inviting, culinary experience for the community.

What’s good here?

Although, at first glance, the menu looks typical – chicken, tuna, egg and ham salad, pimento cheese, salads, hummus wraps and soups – there is always an extra “something” that makes the items special. “Almost everything is from scratch,” owner Sue Hodges said. “I developed the recipes, along with my daughter, Anne Reynolds, who is the manager. We’ve become known for our tomato basil soup, which Anne has fine-tuned, as well as our crab or lobster bisque. We use hormone-free meats when we can, always the freshest ingredients and low-fat milk.”

What else?

“We have tomato pie as a Wednesday special and our chicken barbecue on Thursdays and Fridays. Our chicken barbecue over salad is unique: mixed green salad with homemade dill coleslaw, chicken barbecue, sunflower seeds and dill dressing on the side. Customers also flock to The Happy Cafe for the cakes – lemon, chocolate and caramel. We sell thousands of those caramel cakes each year, from the minis to the 18-inch sizes. The secret is in pouring the caramel icing over the cake while it’s hot,” Hodges said. Customers order barbecue, chicken salads, the soups and tomato pies to serve for lunches or dinner in their homes or for special occasions. The cafe is also beginning to make chicken potpies and biscuits for take-home.

How did The Happy Cafe get its start?

When Sue Hodges’ children began leaving the nest, she explored a culinary career as the new chapter in her life. She had a history degree. However, growing up with an “excellent cook” as her mother and enjoying cooking since elementary school, she decided to enroll in a one-year, nightly course at the University of South Carolina’s culinary school. She worked for USC for one semester and then took a job overseeing lunches at Hammond School. When the owner of The Happy Bookseller wanted to increase traffic in the bookstore seven years ago, the opportunity came about to open a place in the back. “I decided with The Happy Cafe that I would cook and prepare food the way women like to eat, but that will appeal to men as well.”

What does the place look like?

Walls are lined with local art for sale. Bistro tables seat two to four comfortably; chairs and tables can be pulled together for larger groups. There are a few books for sale. And on one wall are the remnants of when The Happy Cafe was part of The Happy Bookseller: The wall of fame includes photos of Sue Hodges posing with the famous people who did book signings over the years. Customers order at the counter, get their drinks, then sit down and wait to be served.

Who eats here?

Primarily women. However, men come in with their wives or for a quick business lunch. Mothers shopping with their young children also lunch here because The Happy Cafe is child-friendly.

What makes it a “happy” cafe?

“I mostly love working with my daughter, Anne. She’s great,” Hodges said. “And I started out with just myself and some friends helping, but now we have regular employees and they’re a joy to work with. . . . Plus, I just love connecting with the customers. I was so sad when The Happy Bookseller had to close. I felt that they were just another great offering for this community. It’s the small, private businesses – not the chains – that give a community its character. We all live such a fast-paced life. I want people to think of The Happy Cafe as a place to come in, meet friends, make new ones, enjoy good food and just relax.”

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