One of my most dreaded duties when I was in high school was finding a summer job.
I was not an ambitious teenager and procuring employment put a big crimp in my schedule of summer lounging. Reluctantly, I went with my mother looking for jobs and found one right in Portsmouth.
It was the summer going into my senior year and I discovered what was to be one of my favorite jobs to date. I worked at a small coffee shop called The Sugar Plum Café. It was located where the is now, on East Main Road, next to the Hess station.
They served the best deli meats and cheeses and had amazing desserts and bagels brought in from the best bakeries. They gave their sandwiches cool names before it was chic and had the widest selection of unique juices and sodas in Portsmouth.
I loved that job. The owners were great people and the restaurant had yellow and pink décor and a small gas fireplace we’d light when it got cold. Even their logo was great-two long, slender cats siting at a bistro table.
I had many laughs serving up coffee, bagels and sandwiches. They even had an ice cream counter off to the side complete with old-fashioned toppings. The radio was always set to oldies (at that time, mind you, oldies meant music from the 1950’s and 1960’s) and we sang and danced when it was slow.
And what would a coffee shop be without the coffee? Oh boy, there was the coffee. They must have had 20 different kinds of coffee from Kona and Scandinavian blends to raspberry and cinnamon hazelnut flavors. It was heaven walking into that place, as the smell of coffee would just envelope you. You could order a single cup of any flavor and the beans were freshly ground right there for you. I never appreciated the artistry that went into making a great cup of coffee before I worked at the Sugar Plum. And it wasn’t until I began to appreciate what went into making a good cup of coffee that I developed an interest in drinking it.
Like any business open for a while, the Sugar Plum developed a core group of regulars. If I didn’t know them already, I learned to know them by name and sometimes had their coffees ready before they even got out of their cars. They’d sit and talk to me while I stocked shelves or cleaned out coffee bins.
When I think about the Sugar Plum Café, I’m sad that it’s no longer there. I miss that fact that it was so small and cozy. It was the kind of place you’d miss if you weren’t paying attention. The bond you develop with the regular customers by learning about their families. Through our daily conversations, we too, became a bit like family.
In my opinion, the Sugar Plum Café was a small gem, ahead of its time.