Creating community over coffee

Published 7:59 pm Monday, November 15, 2010

Bill and Lorayne Shembarger try to create a welcoming and home-like atmosphere at Shemmy's restaurant. Photo by Aaron Mueller

Bill and Lorayne Shembarger try to create a welcoming and home-like atmosphere at Shemmy's restaurant. Photo by Aaron Mueller

Customers at Shemmy’s are encouraged to make themselves at home.

And according to the owners of the Berrien Center restaurant, Bill and Lorayne Shembarger, it doesn’t take people too long to feel comfortable.

“The regulars, they bring their own coffee mugs in the morning, and if I’m in the back working, they can come up and fill their own mugs with coffee,” Bill said. “That’s what makes them feel at home.”

Bill and Lorayne, the parents of this true mom and pop shop, try to create community at the restaurant as well.

“Our original goal was to have a place for the kids in the community to have a place to go,” Lorayne said. “We thought maybe the kids would like to hang out. But we have gotten the older crowd, the retirees.”

The relaxed atmosphere at the small restaurant and retired customers eager to chat encourages conversation and community.

“You can sit here and watch people from two different tables talk to each other and they don’t even know each other,” Lorayne said. “Next thing you know they’re both in here at the same time next week. Do you think you’re going get that at a big restaurant?”

But people don’t come to Shemmy’s just for the conversation. The Shembargers whip up homecooked meals that keep their customers coming back.

The morning crowd loves the bottomless coffee and the $2.99 breakfast specials — the most popular is the “Shemmy sandwich” (two eggs, cheese and bacon on toast).

While they always offer standard items like burgers, pizza, sandwiches and salads, the lunch and dinner menus are ever-changing. Just like mom and dad at home, what’s available that day is what the Shembargers feel like cooking.

“During the week we’ll make different things — beef and noodles, chicken baskets, broasted chicken, prime rib sandwiches, sloppy joes. It changes,” Lorayne said.

But the one constant at Shemmy’s is fish fries on Friday, with all-you-can-eat fish starting at $8.99. Pollock, catfish, shrimp, blue gill and lake perch are all available with red potatoes, homemade coleslaw and corn bread on the side.

“We get people from all over for our fish fries,” Bill said. “Granger, Elkhart, Dowagiac, Three Oaks, New Buffalo.”

No one will refer to Shemmy’s as fast food. True homecooking takes some time, Bill says.

“But people like waiting for it,” he said. “It’s definitely worth the wait.”

For those not looking to sit back, relax and shoot the breeze inside the restaurant, a miniature golf course and driving range are available next door to the building.

Students can play a round of mini golf for $1 and adults for $3, while a bucket of 400 golf balls at the driving range costs $15.

Shermans ice cream is also a draw, in addition to the homemade pies and other deserts.

Shemmy’s has a strong group of regular local customers, but the business also benefits from tourists, especially this time of the year.

“A lot of the out-of-staters will come by through here, looking for fruit and vegetable stands,” Bill said. “They like the colors and the trees. For some reason they love this M-140 route. So this is a good time of year for us.”

The restaurant also has an overflow room that is rented out for receptions, parties and other gatherings.

Plans are in the works to build a deer processing room this fall. The Shembargers also own an unused building next door to the restaurant that Bill would like to someday turn into a general store.

Shemmy’s is open Sunday through Thursday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

It is located at 7563 Pokagon Rd. in Berrien Center and can be reached at (269) 461-6404.