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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 27, 2018 1 month ago

Small, former post office home to big dreams for new cafe

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A small building in the heart of an Amish and Mennonite community provides challenges — and opportunities — for a new sandwich and coffee shop.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, Ann Michelle Stoltzfus visited Sarasota when her parents brought her grandparents there every winter.

That’s when she first became familiar with the post office in Pinecraft, an Amish and Mennonite community. “I remember using the mailbox to mail postcards,” she says.

Until 2016, the building was used as a U.S. Post Office. When it closed, the family thought someone should put a coffee shop in the space. Then they decided to do it themselves.

Stoltzfus and her family now have big plans for the tiny building — it's 540 square feet. They’re turning it into Postal 98 Café, a sandwich and coffee shop. The café will have a post office theme complete with mailboxes built by her father to store coffee cups and a logo that looks like a postage stamp.

The tight space will present challenges, but Stoltzfus is prepared to tackle them creatively. She’d like the café to open in October, but she’s waiting for construction permits and hasn’t been able to set an opening date yet.

Courtesy. Ann Michelle Stoltzfus, with help from family members, including her husband, Jason Stoltzfus, is starting Postal 98 Café in Sarasota’s Pinecraft community.

Postal 98 will be a family affair. Stoltzfus’ parents, along with her husband, Jason Stoltzfus, will be involved in the business. And the Stoltzfus family is no stranger to the food business. Ann Michelle Stoltzfus’ grandfather started Esh Foods, a wholesale food distributor based in Lancaster County, Pa. Ann Michelle Stoltzfus now runs Esh Foods, and her husband and sister run Hatville Deli at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.

“We thought about franchising Hatville,” says Barbie Esh, Ann Michelle Stoltzfus’ mother. “But we thought a new concept was the way to go. The only thing we’re unfamiliar with is the coffee end.”

For that, they’re getting help from Sarasota-based Latitude 23.5° Coffee & Tea. Latitude is working on a blend with beans from Guatemala for Postal 98. “We have a few adopted kids from Guatemala,” Stoltzfus says. The Guatemalan coffee is a way to honor them, she adds.

The menu will include iced and sweet drinks, and fresh fruit smoothies. They will serve paninis, breakfast wraps and a corned beef sandwich that’s a signature item at Hatville Deli.

Harry E. Robbins Associates agent Phil Graber, the listing and selling agent for the property, says it was on the market for about 120 days and there was a lot of curiosity surrounding what the old post office would become. A big selling point was the location, in the heart of Pinecraft. The Stoltzfus family paid $175,000 for the building, Sarasota property records show. 

It was important, Stoltzfus says, to own a building rather than lease one. “This is more effective long-term.”

The biggest challenge ahead for Postal 98? The small space.

To maximize the space, the restaurant will have a walk-up window, a canopy on one side of the building and a counter on the other side where people can sit. For many customers, there will be no need to go inside. Stoltzfus is planning 10 seats inside and 20 outside. “The good thing about Florida is that we can be outside more of the year,” she says.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to open a coffee shop — a place for the community to hang out.”  .” — Ann Michelle Stoltzfus, owner, Postal 98 Café

There will be six parking spaces plus bike racks for members of the Amish and Mennonite community who ride around Pinecraft on three-wheeled bicycles.

Postal 98 won’t have frontage on Bahia Vista Street, the main thoroughfare of Pinecraft, which could also present challenges, Stoltzfus says. She’ll combat that in a few ways. She wants to put a sign on the roof so people can see it from the road. She’s also working on the business’ web presence. And Stoltzfus will rely on customers to spread awareness. “Word of mouth…that’s huge,” she says.

Nearby competition ranges from an ice cream shop to Yoder’s, a popular restaurant known for its Amish food. But Esh thinks it won’t feel like a competitive atmosphere. “I’m thinking it will be a good mix,” she says, with businesses complementing each other and driving more traffic to the area.

During the start-up period, Esh will manage the cafe. When its up and running, they plan to hire a manager. Stoltzfus will move to Sarasota for a few months and then go back and forth between Sarasota and Pennsylvania. “If it weren’t for my parents, this dream wouldn’t come true,” she says.

Stoltzfus says they did on-the-ground market research, asking locals whether they thought the concept would do well. The responses were positive, she says. “It’s always been a dream of mine to open a coffee shop — a place for the community to hang out.”  

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