When Lise Gustavsen opened her sweet bread and coffee café in downtown Buchanan, she admitted she was a bit nervous.
The 35-year-old Michigan native planned to open Café Gustavsen with her father, Willard Gustafsen, who had experience running a local restaurant and was a builder and patentee for specialty pizza ovens.
For a year, the duo worked in the modest 600-square-foot building on 125 Days Ave. When they could, they revamped the space to create a Nordic aesthetic that would complement the menu offering family Norwegian sweet bread recipes, including cinnamon rolls and cakes called boller. There were also plans for sandwiches, pizza, and sourdough bread, too, with Willard setting high expectations.
“Adherence to his standards and his things and how he does things made me nervous,” said Liz Gustafsen. “But now I see it as much more than that and I’m willing to learn.”
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Willard Gustafsen died of cancer in April 2021, about a year after he initially called his daughter about joining him on the new café project and eight months before the café officially opened on December 5. While it was initially believed that he would be alive when the café opened, Liz learned of her father’s illness before accepting the role and opinions on continuing the business as a way to continue his legacy. Its influence is still present today, with a picture of a young Willard tucked behind a work surface and tattooed in his handwriting on Liz’s forearm that reads “I love you, Dad.”
“As soon as I opened it,” she said, “I immediately felt, ‘Wow, he really had planned everything so well.’” I mean, I don’t know if it was that “legacy,” like he didn’t want me to use that word because he was so humble very.”
The one-woman bakery operation now offers a shorter menu than originally planned, with cinnamon rolls and bowlers made with spices like cinnamon and cardamom. Also generally served is roasted Ethiopian coffee, with Liz roasting the coffee herself, using techniques her father taught her from his childhood growing up in Ethiopia.
“Now that I’ve opened it up, it’s very therapeutic for me,” she said. “I think he definitely helps me get through things in a productive way, and I appreciate him and everything he’s done.”
The café is currently set up just for relay, with covered outdoor seating options built by father-daughter duo Gustavsen that are likely to become more popular as the weather warms. Liz said she has not ruled out offering indoor seating in the next few months within the attractive space, but she wants to factor in comfort in light of the coronavirus pandemic. She also hasn’t ruled out the idea of eventually adding pizza to the menu, although, she says, it’s likely something that will be served in the summer.
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Liz said she can’t yet complain about the business saying the community has been really supportive of her. But while keeping things afloat is a constant consideration, her focus isn’t just on money. Instead, it’s about investing in society through her small business, something she says her father once prioritized and which she admits she didn’t value or understand before.
She said, “There are all those people he knows here and he is always helping people and doing things for the community and… he was helping them and I was like, ‘I wish there was enough time for me.’” “I was selfish and I knew I was going to lose him, but I realized why he was so important now— You are creating a place and it has really impacted the community a lot. …I just want to be here and carry a little of his creativity, and I want to be something that is small and positive for the community.”
Contact Mary Shown at 574-235-6244 and email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @maryshownSBT and @marketbasketSBT.