Jason and Amanda Hayden work tirelessly to ensure their customers feel welcome and valued in Cafe 212, Tupelo’s downtown sandwich shop.
Because of their friendliness, their loyal customer base sticks around when the couple needs to close the shop and leave town.
“We love to travel and that’s kind of what recharges our batteries – to get out of town,” Jason said. “As much as we love the place, it’s still work, you get exhausted. For us to be able to shut down and relax is such a big help.”
Jason said they try to take a big trip every year to somewhere like Europe or New York, and then a few smaller ones in between.
“We love New York, especially the Brooklyn area,” he said. “You’re not going to see a McDonald’s on every corner out there. Everything is locally owned, people walk everywhere, stopping to sit and have coffee or eat on the sidewalk. I think that’s so neat andI want more of that for Tupelo.”
The trips are a way for the 32-year-old Tupelo natives to keep their cafe updated.
“When we go out of town, we specifically look for locally owned places – unique places,” he said. “That helps us out to compare ourselves. We try to have more of a cool trendy city feel and that’s something we’ve picked up from different places we’ve traveled.”
The restaurant is brightly painted and decorated with artwork from local artists. The front porch tables make for great people watching and the couches toward the back are an easy way to waste an hour with a book.
To Jason, the most important aspect of the restaurant isn’t the atmosphere, vibe or paint color, it’s the sense of community they try to provide.
“We try to make people feel welcome and a part of it,” Jason said “We’re not another chain, we’re a community restaurant. We’re a part of Tupelo and they’re a part of Tupelo. We’re all in it together.”
In addition to family recipes and deli classics, the menu has town favorites like the Blue Suede Grill and T.C.B. grill, sandwiches fashioned after Elvis Presley’s favorite foods.
Many Cafe 212 patrons have their own plates like the Rubye Del salad named for Tupelo Dance Studio’s owner and Claude’s Plate, a tuna salad plate ordered frequently by local attorney Claude Clayton.
Jason thinks the restaurant’s appeal has a lot to do with their efforts to create community within its walls.
“I like to think it’s because I have a goal, when people come in I want to learn everyone’s name and create a unique experience where we’re the Cheers of sandwich shops,” he said. “I have several customers that tell me they feel a part of this place and give us honest critiques everyday because they want to see us succeed. And that’s what we love about it, people care that much and feel like our success is part of their lives too.
The welcoming environment keeps customers coming back. Almost every weekday, just after noon, there is a line from the front counter to the front door. And no one complains about the line because they know their food will be served quickly and it is consistently delicious.
One reason Jason said the customers come back every day is because the food is affordable.
“I think that’s why we have customers who come in five days a week,” he said. “We try to have a variety of menu options but at the same time not intimidating and prices to where it won’t be much more than bringing their own food with them to work. They don’t have to work about that and can come eat with us. We try to be minimalists but give them something gourmet in a sense within that.”
When the couple went to traveled to Europe for two weeks, Jason said they kept the cafe open for the five-days-a-week customers.
“Now we typically close down the cafe, just because we have a limited staff,” he said. “When we went to Europe it probably took me a good two days into the trip and two international phone cards worth of minutes to turn off and stop worrying.”
On their most recent trip to New York, the couple went to see a Andrew Bird and Patrick Watson concert.
Jason said that is their favorite thing to do when they travel, see live music.
“And we do stuff off the beaten path. Like trapeze classes.”
The Haydens have been married since October of 2004. Amanda opened the restaurant in 2006, buying it from her Aunt who owns Yummy Yogurt.
Story by JB Clark // Photos submitted