Food & Drink

Owners of this cafe were told their business model would fail. Two years later, they’ve proved critics wrong.

Sowers Harvest Cafe opened in 2015 with shorter hours than a typical downtown State College eatery.
Sowers Harvest Cafe opened in 2015 with shorter hours than a typical downtown State College eatery. Photo provided

When Bryant Martin and his wife, Lynelle, wanted to support themselves with their own business in State College, while creating an environment that benefited the community in some way, a coffee shop and cafe seemed to make sense. Both coming from backgrounds of entrepreneurship, with experience in retail, customer service and the restaurant industry, they were prepped for the many challenges of owning a small business.

It was a good thing, too. After moving to State College in the early winter months of 2015, they began doing a little research and, after acquiring their East Beaver Avenue location in August 2015, opened Sowers Harvest Cafe within a month. “It moved rather quickly,” Bryant Martin admits.

“Things really came together for us on a bunch of different fronts. So here we are 2  1/2 years later,” he said. “It’s been exciting to see our dream come to fruition. It has its challenges, but it’s been an incredible blessing and fulfilling to ... (create) an environment where people want to come.”

From the beginning, environment was a huge factor in the Martins’ business plans. As Bryant Martin said, “dining is a lot more than just a product — it’s actually an experience.” Their plans for a holistic dining experience resulted in a warm and welcoming atmosphere, where the counter service is friendly and the little details make all the difference.

At Sowers Harvest Cafe, people come first, and that’s an idea that translates into the Martins’ own lives as well. For Bryant Martin, his biggest challenge since opening the restaurant has been “not allowing our business to hinder or run my personal life, with my family and my church and those that I care about a lot.”

“One of the things we got a lot of pressure on in the beginning was, you have to be open late to succeed here in State College, and on Sundays,” he said.

However, that business plan didn’t fit into the Martins’ lifestyle, and they weren’t about to sacrifice their family time and values. Despite warnings from others in the restaurant industry, they decided to attempt being open only in the morning, lunch and afternoon hours, five days a week, Tuesday–Saturday.

The result?

“What we found is, people are looking for ... more than food. They’re looking for an experience, where they feel welcome, where they feel taken care of. We’ve been blessed with an incredible team that helps deliver that. ... If you deliver a good experience, people will work it into their schedule to come when you’re open,” Bryant Martin said.

Beyond added family time, the shorter hours have additional perks.

“Because of our shorter hours,” Bryant Martin said, “(our customers) see a lot of the same people behind the counter. The people working there, this is their job ... . You get to know people. We use names, not numbers. Sometimes we have up to 60 people packed in our little cafe, and we still use a name. That matters to people.”

Of course, while environment is crucial to a great eatery, the food still has to be good, and Sowers Harvest Cafe delivers on that front as well.

“Our slogan is ‘naturally healthy cuisine,’ ” Bryant Martin said, “so we put a lot of work into our food.”

The cafe’s eggs are from field-pastured hens, raised on non-GMO feed and are cracked on-site. They work with Huntingdon-based Standing Stone Coffee Company, for locally roasted, ethically sourced coffee. The veggies come in whole and much of the food is made in-house, from the baked goods to the pesto to the soft pretzels, made from scratch.

The best sellers are the panini and grillatillas, with the chipotle chicken bacon ranch variety being a top mover, made fresh and selling by the thousands. Other favorites include the soft pretzels and fruit smoothies. For breakfast, it’s all about the veggie pesto omelet and honey almond biscotti latte. The cafe also recently started selling Wild Water Kombucha, made in Lewistown.

All in all, Sowers Harvest Cafe checks all the right boxes. The cafe “appeal(s) to people who want to eat healthy and care about their bodies, people who care about the impact of their purchases,” Bryant Martin said. When State College students and locals stop in for a sandwich or smoothie at Sowers Harvest, “their funds are having a positive impact not only on their bodies, (but also) on the world.”

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at holly.ridd@gmail.com.

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