Cafe changes hands, continues same menu
By Alison James
A downtown eatery that has been a fixture in Opelika for 14 years has changed hands, but it is still serving up the same highly-spoken-of sandwiches and soups.
Cottage Cafe was sold to local entrepreneur John Marsh at the beginning of October. Marsh is also leasing Cottage Walk, the quaintly-designed building that housed Cottage Cafe, Victory Designs, Victory Engraving and Picket Fence since 2000.
“There was nothing downtown to eat 14 years ago,” explained Liz McCollum. “The streets were rough – you didn’t have the streetscape yet.”
But the space that would become Cottage Walk had the asset of extensive parking on Railroad Avenue, and that sealed the deal.
McCollum said the separate shops on the inside was the original plan, but the owners knew they need something to do in the center of the store.
“We were just out eating one night, all the owners, and one of them said, ‘Why don’t we do a cafe in the center to draw people in?’” Liz said.
Picket Fence was the first shop to open in Cottage Walk – after the original space had undergone some major renovation.
“All of it was open,” Liz said. “We put up all the walls that separate the cafe and the other businesses. It had bedroom carpet, so all that had to be pulled up.”
Even though the cafe was an afterthought, “it was a lifesaver,” Liz said.
“The cafe was good to us,” said Homer McCollum. “It helped us do a lot more to the building because it gave us some income … It was fun.”
And although the fun continued until recently, the McCollums said it slowly became apparent that it was time for a change.
Tim Gore with Victory Designs sold his business. Liz and Mary Skinner shortly after that decided they were ready to sell Picket Fence, too, in September 2012. Victory Engraving also closed this year. Cottage Cafe was the last piece operating with original owners.
“I was still up there on a regular basis because I was in charge of the cafe,” Homer said. “We just decided it was probably time for us to sell it.”
“When we were in it, we were all family,” he continued. “With everybody gone –”
“We’ve got renters now,” Liz explained.
“And we just didn’t want to deal with that part of it,” Homer finished.
With the building up for lease, Marsh jumped at the opportunity. While Marsh said he is “still working on ideas” and is “not exactly sure what the future looks like” yet for Cottage Walk, so far the transition has been fairly seamless.
“It’s mainly been the same, and I think they’re going to try to keep it the same,” Liz said.
That was the goal from the beginning.
“We wanted to make sure the cafe stayed intact with the building,” said Homer, who described the cafe as being “like our baby.” “You fed it and watched it grow. We just wanted it taken care of.”
The McCollums said selling the cafe was not an easy decision.
“The cafe has been really good to us,” Homer said. “We’ve got people who have been coming for years and years, and they come up to the counter now and you know what they’re going to order when they walk in the front door.”
The menu has stayed the same, and Kim Renfroe, who has been the face of Cottage Cafe for four years, will remain at the helm.
The McCollums, for their part, walk away with a feeling of success and years of memories.
“Cliff (McCollum) and Mary Louise (Gore) were working on Saturdays when they were 12 years old,” Homer said. “They were making chicken salad … It was fun watching them grow up. They learned it all. They’d always have a good time doing it … We wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
“It was fun to see our idea worked,” said Liz.