Naked Egg Cafe owner takes calculated risk

The Naked Egg Cafe is located at 320 Pine Grove Road in Pine Grove Mills.
The Naked Egg Cafe is located at 320 Pine Grove Road in Pine Grove Mills. CDT photo

The Naked Egg is a science experiment where you take a raw egg and put it in a glass of vinegar to dissolve the shell, which leaves just the membrane.

The Naked Egg Cafe was no science experiment.

“It was a risk like any other business,” owner Hiya McKenna said. “A lot of people didn’t think we should do it.”

The restaurant opened anyway, and locals have supported the small eatery at 320 Pine Grove Road.

“We have a lot of loyal ‘eggulars,’ and they come in for coffee and breakfast or lunch,” McKenna said. “They’ll call in for their morning egg sandwich every morning. We love seeing them. I hope they feel the same way when we know their name and what they like to eat.”

She still gets a lot of questions about the name, though.

“We kicked around a lot of names, most of them bad, so we settled on The Naked Egg Cafe, which my husband came up with,” she said. “It was just a bunch of our friends throwing around a lot of terrible names one day, and he said that. We thought about it a while, and that’s what we settled on.”

Q: Why’d you feel a restaurant would be successful in Pine Grove Mills?

A: I didn’t know if it would be (successful). I’ve lived in Pine Grove Mills, and I wanted a place in Pine Grove Mills. This was an ice cream stand before, and I think a lot of people thought that we wouldn’t get customers out here. We actually do get a lot of customers from State College, a ton of college kids. I heard a lot of Pine Grove Mills people didn’t think it was going to succeed, but I think if you have good food and good service and it’s a comfortable place to come into, you’re going to go and do well.

Q: You target the breakfast and lunch crowd. Why not dinner, too?

A: We did when we opened, because we didn’t know what to expect. Opening up a restaurant here was definitely a gamble. We opened from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. The first thing is that if you’ve ever tried working a 12-hour day consistently, and it’s not just 12 hours because you have to be here a few hours before and a couple hours after, so you’re working up to 18 hours a day, which burns you out pretty quickly. It was pretty soon after we opened we saw that from 3 p.m. on it slowed down considerably until maybe 5 p.m. We don’t have a liquor license, so it’s not like they’re coming here for a dinner. There wasn’t enough business at that time to justify staying open until that time. After a month or two we decided to open at 7 a.m. and close at 3 p.m. I would like to have more special dinners, which we have every Valentine’s Day, and it’s very successful.

Q: What was difficult about figuring out how to run a restaurant?

A: The second or third week we were open we literally had to close our doors and our restaurant because we ran out of food. We never advertised, so when we opened we figured we’d be fine ordering this much. The response from people was amazing. I think people want to give new places a shot and want to try something different. We were so busy we ran out of food, so we just had to close down. It took us time to get adjusted to how much product we had to purchase. We have a small place with small storage, so we can’t order a bunch of food and just leave it there. It took us time to figure out the right amount of food to order and not have excess and not run short ... I’m very appreciative that after we opened people understood and gave us a second chance.

Of course, right now there is the egg shortage, too, so that could be an issue. I’m waiting to see what happens with the egg shortage, but it could take several years for the eggs to stabilize.

Q: You’ve been settled in for about two years now. What’s the most challenging part of this industry?

A: I think that I really have enjoyed everything about it. If you go into a business thinking it’s going to be easy, you shouldn’t be going into business. Every job I’ve ever had I feel like I’ve taken something from it. I was in the mortgage business for 10 years, and I loved it and I loved who I worked with. I wouldn’t have left, but times change. I feel you shouldn’t do something if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy it, everything will feel like a chore. Nothing is easy; showing you can deal with it, enjoy it and get through it is the important part.

Q: Is there anything you expected in the business that didn’t happen?

A: I thought we’d have more morning rush hour business. That’s why we opened so early at 6 a.m., because this road gets a lot of travel from Huntingdon and Altoona, so there are a lot of commuters here. We have our regulars, which has built up. We’ve been really, really lucky with word of mouth — Instagram has been especially helpful with college students — but we’ve never advertised, and we do pretty well for not advertising. We expected morning business. We don’t get a huge rush. It’s steady.

Q: What advice would you give to someone considering opening a restaurant?

A: You really need to be determined, because if you can’t stick it out you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s a tough business. It’s an expensive endeavor. I’ve been lucky to have the support of my family and friends. And I can tell you I had people who were in the restaurant business in town that I know, friends, and they said they wouldn’t do it. I got a lot of negative feedback about opening up a restaurant. This was coming from restauranteurs. If I listened to them I wouldn’t be in the restaurant business. I believe once you decide to do something you should stick it out.