Originally from Michigan, Corry Graber, owner of Perks Cafe, spent 10 years as an Executive Chef and General Manager at an Indiana steakhouse, before moving to Dade City. When Graber and her husband Tim, a former Assistant Chief of Police, first learned that Perks Cafe was for sale, Graber was working for Red Robin as an Assistant General Manager. Tim's discovery couldn't have come at a better time.
"He was looking for good coffee in downtown Dade City," Graber said. "People told him to go to Perks Cafe. He went and met the owner and ended up talking to her about the business. He found out that she was interested in getting out. Tim called me and I went down there that day. It was more of a shell of a coffee shop. It had no atmosphere, but I saw the potential. The owner and I spoke and I decided that weekend that I wanted to buy it."
With a degree in Culinary Arts and an affinity for pastries, Graber always wanted to have her own place. She tried once before while living in Elkhart, IN, but the Great Recession threw a wrench in those plans. This time was different. Graber was tired of the daily grind and decided that if she was going to continue working as hard as she had been, that it would be for herself.
"My husband said, 'you're ready and prepared to do this'," she said. "I cashed out my 401(k), we drafted up the paperwork, a notary came in and we completed the deal. The original owner stayed on-board for a six week transition as I got to know the business. I officially took over on December 1st, 2015 and slowly brought in a little bit of my own style. Business was steady, but before I took over, the cafe had no personality. Over time, I brought in a more homey and comfy feel."
Even though the cafe had history and a steady flow of customers, Graber admitted that changing ownership made it feel like starting from scratch. She worked hard to change the personality of the cafe, including updated menus and recipes. People started to notice the changes. They liked what they saw and told others. Word got out and, as Graber continued to network and get involved in the community, her business took off.
As a people person, Graber loves everyone that comes through her door. "It's like a family," she said. "I love getting to know my customers and helping to brighten their day. We always send them out with a smile." Graber also enjoys being able to flex her creative side. She recently added custom made chocolates to the menu. These hand-crafted treats include truffles, bon bons, filled chocolates, candy bars and chocolate Biscottis.
Looking ahead, Graber has plans to make her chocolates available online. She's working through some of the logistical concerns to make that happen. She's also considering hiring someone to focus on the lunch sandwiches and breakfast options, to allow her to devote her attention to the chocolates. An even bigger goal is to start roasting her own coffee and eventually move into a bigger building. Graber envisions Perks Cafe as being a true destination spot.
What advice does Graber have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Have a plan and trust yourself," she said. "Have a support system. Don't give up on your dreams. My parents had their own businesses. I know the hard work they put into it. I'm the first to open the door in the morning and last to lock it, but it's so rewarding in the end. It's not easy and there are trying times, but you keep pushing forward. Overall, it's made me more confident."