October 5 – SALEM – It’s a relaxed Monday afternoon scene outside the Mom and Pop pastry shop.
A few dozen patrons at Salem’s longtime cafe and bakery sit and mingle outside the downtown restaurant that celebrates four decades of baking, coffee, and conversation. As door prizes for the event are announced via the public address system, Owner and Founder Joy Grape takes advantage.
“I’ve been here for 40 years and I’m happy to be here. It’s a very caring community,” Grape told Mitchell Republic.
The 70-year-old Salem native founded Mom & Pop’s in 1981 in a historic building dating back to 1899 after holding similar positions in Sioux Falls and California. For the next four decades, his gathering place has been a source of tasty treats, Sunday breakfasts, coffee, and the conversation that goes so well with each one.
Starting the shop was a natural progression in her career, dating back to her love of baking candy since she was a young girl.
“I’ve always been (a baker) since I was 5,” Grape said as she and her customers soaked up the hot midday sun. “I worked in Sioux Falls in Fantles as a pastry chef for a while, then in California for a few years.”
The small store offers a variety of baked goods and also serves lunch specials and breakfast. The menu is a foodie’s dream, with homemade pies and rolls, rolls and donuts on tap. She’s known for making ready-to-eat Thanksgiving dinners with turkey and all the trimmings during the first or second week of November. She estimates that around 175 people stop by for the holiday meal each year.
She is open seven days a week and is the only full-time employee, working between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Grape admits it’s long hours and hard work, but residents have always responded well to her cooking and treats. .
Of course, she tests everything for taste to make sure it meets her exacting standards.
“I’ll eat anything,” she said with a small laugh.
Those who attended the reception on Monday also know what they like. From homemade caramel buns to Sunday lunch, there’s something for everyone at Mom & Pop’s.
“It’s worth coming for sure,” said John Osterberg, who helped with the sound system on the open house and said he often stops by the store on Sundays. “What I love about the bakery is that there are still some fresh pastries you can get in town. And it’s good for the community to have a place to help with weddings and funerals and everything like that. “
Kevin Bright, who worked with Grape at Delite Bakery in San Luis Obispo, California in the 1970s, made the trip to South Dakota to help his friend and former colleague celebrate his decades of work. He knows firsthand that Grape has spent years honing his culinary skills into an art.
“I met Joy in 1975 at the Delite Bakery in San Luis Obispo. I was already working there doing various jobs, and one day I walked in and there was Joy,” Bright said. “So we worked side by side to decorate cakes and stuff, and we just became friends.”
The trip marked Bright’s second trip in 25 years to Salem to visit Grape, and he got a taste for the city and its people.
“She has really good cookies,” said Bright. “Glad I got to be here, it was so much fun. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time, but we traded Christmas cards.”
Grape has become accustomed to the hard and demanding work that comes with operating a bakery and café. She invariably gets up every day at 3:30 a.m., which is what she has to do to bake pastries and prepare meals for her customers.
And while long days are something she’s used to, after 40, it’s about a person.
“My body is exhausting, but I’ve learned to quit by 2pm. This cafe crowd doesn’t pay the light bills,” Grape said with a laugh.
But her clients have faithfully supported her. The community even helped with some renovation efforts before the big celebration. And as she chats and watches the crowd on Monday, it’s clear that she knows and can hold a conversation with anyone.
She does not take this proximity to a small town for granted.
“It’s one thing about a small town. It’s a very caring community,” said Grape.
There have been challenges over the years, the most recent being the COVID-19 outbreak, which has slowed business down. She said the pandemic had made the restaurant business difficult, but luckily a stimulus check helped her move forward when times were tough.
But of course when the pandemic subsided, customers returned and it has been moving forward ever since. The good humor of Grape, his friends and clients on Monday confirms this. She thinks she would like to work another five years or so before she thinks about retirement, although she is not sure it will slow her down.
“I think I will always have to do something,” said Grape.