Our Masters of Their Craft series is monthly features where we give a glimpse into the life, vision, and work of artists, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, musicians, business owners, innovators, and fellow dreamers who excel in their area of expertise. They use their gifting with passion and excellence. Their work is tried and true. By sharing these innovators with others who we know will value the labor of their hands as much as we do, we aim to make a humble attempt at giving them honor. As part of our Master of Their Craft series, today we have a beautiful story to share with you about friends we admire and appreciate. With love, we introduce to you the Fisher family. Our very own Grace is part of this family. Be sure you don’t miss the GIVEAWAY the family is generously providing at the end of the post. Grab a cup of coffee, find a comfortable spot, take a few minutes. This is one inspiring read.
Team member Karen is the vision and hands behind these special posts…she will take it from here.
CHRIS AND KAREN : RESTAURATEURS
There is a part of humanity that prefers safety to risk, surety to the unknown, stability to change, and hesitation to action. But with those of a certain wiring, risk, the unknown, change, and action are prized. Chris and Karen Fisher, restaurateurs, possess the sense of adventure and resilience present in all successful entrepreneurs. They are a couple who has weathered well thirty-four years of marriage working side by side, and their success suggests that perhaps the most formidable business partners can be found in our mates.
If you live in south-Central Pennsylvania, most likely Lititz is a town you’ve visited, and there is a quaint café where you have ordered a slice of tomato pie and a glass of herbed lemonade. The Fishers’ Tomato Pie Café adds charm to this little town, and at any time of the day, locals and tourists enter the doors of the outwardly modern eatery that inwardly takes you to a time when people were a little nicer and life was a little slower. Tomato Pie Café has only been open for three years; however, the real journey began thirty-four years ago when the couple met in a burger joint where Karen worked in Sarasota, Florida and soon thereafter married.
The two found in one another an ideal match and qualities that would not only suit them well in their marriage but also in their future business ventures. Chris, molded by his Amish upbringing, and Karen, influenced by her Mennonite childhood, had roots of hard work ethic and self-sufficiency. They were also wanderers at heart and welcomed new endeavors. The Fishers would go on to make their home in Lancaster Pennsylvania; Johnstown, Ohio; Warm Springs, Virginia; and West Cliff, Colorado before settling back into Pennsylvania. Their time in each area of the U.S. equipped them on their pathway of becoming restaurateurs. In Ohio, Chris oversaw construction work, and Karen cooked for the two Amish boys living with them while working for Chris. The boys would often lament,, “This isn’t how our mom makes it!” which made Karen more determined to improve her culinary skill and learn that brown butter solves many meal woes. After hitting a financial bottom, the Fishers with their four children and ever present perseverance, left Pennsylvania and moved to Warm Springs, Virginia to run a B&B where Karen headed the kitchen, planned menus, and cooked and served the guests. In Westcliff, Colorado, Chris and the boys did construction work and helped run their furniture/gift store, while Karen homeschooled their children and managed her salt dough business with twelve employees. Their entrepreneurial eyesight strengthened over these years and prepared them for their return to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
After settling back into life on the east coast, two years passed before they purchased their first restaurant: The Lititz Family Cupboard. Shortly thereafter, they added The Bakery At The Cupboard and eventually The Tomato Pie Café in Lititz, whose success incited them to add a Harrisburg location. The pioneering spirits of Chris and Karen have led to three restaurants and many job opportunities including ones for their own children who all contribute to the family business in various ways. The Fishers, a husband and wife team of thirty-four years, commit themselves to excellence whether it is in the menu they create, the atmosphere of their cafes, the integrity by which they go about their business dealings, or the quality of the house cup of coffee sitting next to your menu.
Karen answered some questions about TPC and their other business ventures.
When did TPC begin and what brought you to the decision to open the café in downtown Lititz?
For many years I dreamt of owning a small place where I could use my creativity to make foods with no boundaries. Three years ago the opportunity came knocking on our door, an invitation to open an eatery in the amazing old Victorian house in Lititz. Crooked floors, tiny kitchen, original soda fountain: we were in love! Perfect. Lititz was close to our home and who does not love Lititz! Just a simple, small place with a little food, little coffee, and a lot of charm. We thought small, but our guests proved differently. I knew tomato pie was just one of the many dishes I would want to serve in the cafe, so that is where the name came from. Little did I know then that the dish would steal the show!
You also run other food-related businesses besides TPC. Can you tell us a bit about those?
Fourteen years ago it all began with the purchase of the Lititz Family Cupboard. With no capital, nor formal training, and no budget plan, we took the risk. Although Chris and I both had experience in managing/leading others in business, the only restaurant experience we brought was the years I worked at eateries as a teenager. The first few years were the most tiresome and yet the most energizing at the same time. We had found our niche and knew we were in it for the long haul. We made many mistakes along the way but chose to learn from each one. The Cupboard continues to serve authentic PA Dutch cuisine and is a favorite for many locals and visitors. Five years ago, we added a full service bakery at the Cupboard location which supplies the fantastic desserts for all three stores, including the pie shells that we use for our famous tomato pies. In October 2010, we opened the Lititz Tomato Pie Cafe, and in October 2013 the Harrisburg Tomato Pie. The Harrisburg cafe may not be in a charming Victorian house but the minute you step inside the doors you are taken back in time to the 1930’s with the swing music, the fedora hats and the breathtaking 19 ft antique apothecary bar used for the coffee bar.
With all of the responsibility that accompanies owning a business, what do you do to manage your time?
· Time management can be a challenge for me since I thrive on spontaneity. It requires discipline for me to take the time to plan out my day/ week but the results of those weeks are great when I stay on track. I learned to give myself wiggle room so when the unexpected urgent arises, I can still stay on track. I was raised to work first then play.
· I have people in my life who help keep me accountable for my life balance.
· I am intentional about time for what really matters the most to me: Jesus Christ, my marriage, family, my health, and close friends.
In what ways do you and your husband complement one another to work well together at running a business?
We learned early on to free each other to do what we do best. I enjoy the administration, building leaders, casting vision, creating new techniques and perfecting the systems. Chris is so patient at listening to all my wild ideas and then together we make it happen. He is more focused on the bottom line of the business and making the numbers work. I am so grateful for his wisdom and am honored first to be his wife and also business partner. We are both risk takers, which makes it important to balance ourselves with those who are not.
In what capacities is your family involved in the business?
Our eldest son Mike is our IT person. Our second son Christopher is our Chef Finance Controller. Our third son Jeremy is our Director of Operations. Our daughter Emily is the Head Barista at the Harrisburg TPC.
Outside of work, how do you unwind?
I have numerous ways in which I unwind. I enjoy listening to inspiring music, reading, going for long bike rides in the hot sun, playing Rook with friends, and spending time with the children. It is not always easy for me to shut down my imagination and creativity but over the years I have learned the art of it. I recognize that it is important to be intentional about setting time aside for imagining but it does need to be “bridled” or that is all my life would be. A life full of ideas and dreams, but never putting legs to it seems wasteful. The most beneficial way for us to unwind is to do mini get-a-ways.
For those interested in pursuing a career in the restaurant business, what advice can you offer and what are essentials to operating a successful cafe?
You must love serving people, both your team and the customers. Be ready to work hard. You need a product and service that sets you apart from your competition. It’s called your USP (unique selling product). Be true to who you are. Be confident and yet humble at the same time. Persevere when you get weary. The first year is often the hardest and yet the most exciting. Be passionate about who you are and what you do. Brace yourself for critics! And if people in general easily frustrate you, reconsider. The financial rewards can be great at times and at other times not so great. During the not so great times, will your passion for your vision be strong enough to carry you through? Surround yourself with positive people who believe in your dream.
As entrepreneurs, what are some key challenges you have had to overcome to make your businesses successful?
· To not be afraid to take the financial risk.
· To run the business and not let the business run us.
· To run the business with integrity even when the laws of the land make it difficult.
· To be genuinely happy that sometimes our fruit grows on other peoples trees.
· To fully trust and release others to lead our Teams who are in line with our core values.
· To learn that honest confrontation must be part of the equation.
Can you share the harder parts of restaurateuring? Have you ever wanted to give up?
Yes there have been numerous times I wrote my two weeks notice but did not know who to give it to! Being a leader of any organization has it times of discouragement. The honest truth is that the team we lead will only be as good as we are as leaders to them. To lead with excellence can be wearisome. Our faith in Jesus Christ is at the core of our strength; it is He who carries us through the hard times.
What are your dreams for the future of TPC?
To see our current stores grow in excellence in both the tangibles and the non-tangible aspects. To be able to financially impact needs in this world and by sending our teams on mission trips.
How does operating TPC challenge you on an artistic level?
It allows me to use my creativity in foods and in the progressive decorating of the stores.
Can you share one, two or three of the most rewarding moments in the world of restaurateuring?
· When I was able to turn our most dreaded, toast throwing, never happy, grumpy man into one of our favorite regulars!
· When I hear guests make comments like, “There is something so different about this place, so much happiness here, the staff is always so friendly, I feel like family when I dine here.”
Now that makes me feel successful.
· When we sold 2000 slices of tomato pie in one month! Never did I imagine this to be possible. Now it is the norm and growing.
If you go out to dinner, where do you go?
Tough question! We love all food types.
Rice and Noodles
Johnny’s Steak House (for their tuna steak)
Iron Hill Brewery
How do you envision your life in 10 years from now?
It will probably not be retire! We hope to be inspiring others to start new businesses and empowering them to succeed. We will also be going to other countries to spend time loving the poor.
Chris and Karen Fisher are generously giving away TWO ‘Tomato Pie Experience for two’! Two gift cards…one for the Lititz location and one for the Harrisburg location. If you have not yet experienced Tomato Pie, you don’t want to miss this! If you have already been there….we know you will want to go back. To enter the GIVEAWAY, please comment and answer this question: If you could start any business, what would it be? If you already have started or work in a business you love, tell us about it….leave the website so we can be sure to visit. Giveaway ends at midnight Thursday, June 5th. Winner randomly chosen and announced Friday.
Be sure to check out the Tomato Pie Café menu…it changes seasonally and will not disappoint.
Have a beautiful Monday, friends. xo