Concord’s In a Pinch cafe offshoot, Still in a Pinch, to be sold
Sandy Schafer is tired of living another woman’s dream.
It has been almost two years since Schafer and her husband bought In a Pinch, a pair of popular Concord breakfast and lunch cafes. Last week, the couple decided it would close the smaller of the two restaurants, Still In A Pinch, on Pillsbury Street, so they could put more focus on the original eatery.
The reasons for selling Still In A Pinch are many, but money is not one of them, Schafer said. Instead, it is more about fatigue and the need to make In a Pinch a little more hers, and a little less its previous owner’s.
“It’s just too much,” she said of running two restaurants. “I work 15 to 16 hours a day. I pretty much live in the restaurant.”
Schafer may not realize it, but her predecessor, Paula Stephen, lived a similar life for more than 20 years. Stephen died of leukemia in 2011 at age 55.
“It’s tough running a small business,”
Stephen told an Associated Press reporter in 2010. “I am really burnt out.”
Complaining was not something much heard from Stephen, friends said. She usually focused on helping others, said longtime friend Karen Oleson of Goffstown.
“She loved it. She would still be at In a Pinch if she had not passed away,” Oleson said.
Schafer isn’t a complainer, either. Like Stephen, Schafer enjoys talking with customers and hopes they leave feeling better than when they came in.
What Schafer loves to do most for her customers, however, is create new things for them to eat.
She hasn’t experimented too much, partly because of time constraints and partly because her customers were anxious about changes right after Stephen died.
So, Schafer played it safe. She kept everything – even the French decor – exactly as it was when Stephen operated the cafe and bakery on Pleasant Street.
“I tried to maintain the good food and same reputation,” Schafer said. “I’m trying, but I don’t know. I feel like some people look at me like I’m not as good as Paula.”
All that trying to be like Stephen may be costing the customers some really good food, said In a Pinch kitchen manager Sarah Chadwick. Once Still in a Pinch is sold, Chadwick hopes Schafer will have the time to introduce more Asian food.
“She can cook like crazy,” Chadwick said, smiling at Schafer.
Nothing drastic is proposed. The menu will remain the same at In a Pinch, with a few extras. Customers will continue to find favorites, such as tarragon chicken salad, lemon bars and cream cheese-laden brownies.
“We will never change that,” Schafer said. “We would increase the menu by doing it at dinner. I always wanted to sell dumplings and some noodles.”
Schafer is Taiwanese and a former Chinese cooking instructor. When her spicy chicken or pork dumplings and unusual soups occasionally are made available for customers, the new foods quickly outsell the usual fare.
“She makes hot and sour soup. It is so good it sells in a day, and you had better get here before the lunch crowd,” Chadwick said.
Surprisingly, Oleson said, Stephen may not have been the cook people thought. What Stephen had was an incredible sense of taste and great business sense, she said.
“Paula actually wasn’t the best cook in the world,” Oleson said. “She was just really smart. She was very keen on getting good people to come in and run the business who were passionate about it and did it right.”
Unlike Stephen, Schafer said she struggles with managing others.
“I have a hard time hiring really good people,” Schafer said. “I don’t want to have two (cafes), because I can’t be at both at the same time.”
And there are the Schafer children to consider. There are four of them, two boys and two girls, ages 8 to 17.
“I feel like how much money can I make? What does it matter if (my children) don’t do well? Money is not very important to me,” Schafer said.
Stephen was divorced and had no children. Where Schafer needs to give more to her family, Stephen gave to her customers. When a customer entered In a Pinch, Stephen was smiling, looking the person in the eye without wavering, Oleson said.
“When you walked into that cafe, you felt special. I never thought it would make it without her,” Oleson said.
Maybe Stephen helped a little with that. The day Schafer walked into the small kitchen at In a Pinch, she found Stephen’s recipes waiting for her.
Together, the two women who never met may just keep giving Concord residents the food they love.
Stephen may be remembered for giving In a Pinch something no recipe could provide – its heart. Schafer may be remembered for giving it its spice.
(Daira Cline can be reached at 369-3306 or dcline@cmonitor. com.)