A new café in Old Town is serving up treats almost as sweet as the feeling of stepping inside its charming doors.
"It's so cute," said Andrea Bowles, a first-time customer.
The white wooden rocking chairs and Savannah fans on the wrap-around porch create an inviting atmosphere to sit with one of the Sweet Life Café’s flavored lattes, or a scoop of ice cream made by Mayor Robert Lederer himself.
“We love Charleston,” said Lederer. “We kind of crafted this whole idea around Charleston.”
The building, on the northwest corner of Route 123 and North Street, was built in 1840 as a private residence. Lederer and his wife, Maureen, made sure they hired the right people to customize the place so it would reflect its history. Pictures of the building’s interior taken in the early 20th century can be seen on the wall at the entrance to the café. Lederer said there is a picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting on the porch in his wheelchair, and he said Winston Churchill has been in the home too.
The Lederers hired Brad Preiss, a custom bar designer, to handcraft the woodwork seen throughout both the interior
and the exterior of the shop. From the model train elevated over the ice cream freezer, to the wooden coffee bar, it’s obvious the intricate work here took time.
“Our concept is to make it feel like a town hall community
gathering place,” said Lederer. “It’s just a very unique setting.”
Robert Lederer said he and his wife have been so busy focusing on giving the place the perfect charm, that they kind of overlooked little things here and there. He said a customer came in on opening day and paid with a $20 bill. Neither Robert or Maureen had even thought about a change drawer yet. They said funny little instances like that will probably occurr, but they're not worried about it.
The Shop offers three rooms inside where people can sit to enjoy their treats. The larger room has a fire place and several tables, with hand-crafted wooden benches. The tea room has a Victorian feel to it, with lace table cloths draped over circular tables and the quantness of a small sitting room. The third room features blue walls and is designated for childrens' birthday parties, parties which Maureen Lederer said she will customize to each child's prefrences. Whether children want princesses, action heroes, or movie-related themes, she will make cakes and decorations to cater to each child.
"We've always done extravagant parties for our kids," said Maureen Lederer. "We can make the parties as elaborate or simple as they like."
The Lederers have three daughters who have also helped with the business thus far. Their 15-year-old, Ashley, learned how to operate the computer point-of-sale system quicker than her parents. And Brooke, their 9-year-old has helped her mom taste things and she also provides insight into what children will want from the cafe.
"She's [Brooke] our official candy-taster," said Maureen Lederer. "It's definitely a family affair."
The homemade ice cream is something the couple has set out to perfect. Robert Lederer asked for tips from his good friend Woody Lashley, owner of Woody’s Ice Cream Parlor on Stonewall Avenue. He also studied up on the craft of ice cream-making, and said he’ll attend the Penn State University Creamery ice-cream making corresponsence course next January, the same place where Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, learned about ice cream production.
"We’re still fine-tuning it,” said Robert Lederer. “I make it fresh every night. "We've gone through probably a hundred containers of ice cream."
THE BASIC FLAVORS are there for those who like a traditional cup or cone of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. He has also churned out flavors like espresso, cotton candy, cherry vanilla, rocky road, peach, mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, and butter pecan. And the cake batter flavor tastes just like licking a bowl of actual cake batter, only colder. After the cafe's busy weekend, licking the bottom of the tubb was almost necessary since they nearly sold out of the sweet and creamy flavor.
Milkshake flavors include chocolate, mocha, strawberry, vanilla and orange sunshine. There are chocolate, vanilla and strawberry sodas, and coke or root beer floats. Candy toppings for ice cream, which can be mixed into ice cream on a cold marble stone, give guests the opportunity to create their own flavors.
Another popular item is the sandwich menu. Maureen Lederer said they came up with sandwiches as kind of an afterthought, but they've proven to be a huge success in the first week of business. Robert Lederer said they sold a couple hundred sandwiches just in the first weekend.
The meat is hand-carved for sandwiches like turkey with smoked gouda on a pretzel roll, with dijon and fresh greens, roast beef with smoked gouda and horseradish, or chicken salad with provolone on a kaiser roll.
On Saturdays and Sundays they offer a breakfast selection of danishes, pancakes and waffles with fresh fruit toppings, along with the Great Harvest Breads that are delivered fresh every morning, seven days a week. Chesapeake Bay Roasters coffee and espresso is available daily, along with syrups for flavoring. Maureen Lederer went to Barista school to learn how to make great espresso drinks, adding to the quality of what Robert Lederer said is already great coffee.
"I think we have the best coffee in town," said Robert Lederer.
Customers can also enjoy fudge, chocolate truffles, lollipops and hot dogs, with even more items to come as the Lederer's tweak the store to everybody's liking and figure out what works and what doesn't.