Cynthia Sieloff was contemplating a change. She took a walk at Pike Lake State Park and then drove to downtown Hartford where she walked into Perc Place. Cynthia had spent the last 10 years as the owner of Colonial Restaurant in Menomonee Falls with her husband, and the 10 years prior to that as a waitress at the same restaurant.
Perc Place originally opened in 1999 as just a coffee house. Several years later a new owner expanded the business to include soup, hard rolls and pastries, in addition to coffee.
“As fate would have it, when I walked into Perc Place that day, the current owner was looking for someone to take Perc Place to the next level,” Cynthia said. “She knew she had a large space and that her current offering wasn’t enough for such a large space.”
Cynthia agreed with the current owner’s assessment, and knew that something had to be added to the business for it to be viable for her. The conversations progressed and ultimately Cynthia and her husband purchased Perc Place in 2002.
“The first thing we added was lunch,” Cynthia said. “Then in 2004 we started serving breakfast. I took baby steps until I could feel what the community really needed or wanted.”
Under Cynthia’s direction, Perc Place cemented its status in the community, becoming a warm and cozy gathering place with excellent food, offering a unique atmosphere unlike other restaurants in the area.
“I’ve never wanted to own a chain. It’s too cookie cutter and impersonal,” Cynthia said. I would rather go someplace where they know your name and ask about your grandson or your new puppy.”
After 13 years in its current space, Cynthia started to sense a new growth opportunity for Perc Place.
“We were really growing out of our current space,” Cynthia said. The space next door to us opened up and I felt that we should take the leap and expand the restaurant.”
A larger space meant Perc Place would have more room for a grill, fryers and other equipment. The new equipment would allow the restaurant to expand its menu.
Cynthia went to her lender at First National Bank where they discussed the financing she needed and several routes for expansion.
“I’ve used First National Bank for my banking needs since we came to Hartford,” Cynthia said. “The bank personnel are customers of Perc Place and they’re very familiar with our business. Within 2-3 weeks, the bank called and said the funds for the expansion were a go.”
Cynthia originally chose First National Bank because she wanted a bank that was going to be with her for the long haul, and not one that was going to continuously merge with other banks. She also wanted to feel that her business mattered to her bank.
“When my husband and I owned Colonial in Menomonee Falls, we were using a large chain bank,” Cynthia said. “We did so many check transactions and our check fees were really high. My husband went to the president of the bank and asked if we could pay a flat fee for all of our checks instead of paying per check. The response he got was, ‘You’re a small business and you’re not really profitable for us, so no.’ We were stunned.’”
Cynthia’s experience with First National Bank has been the complete opposite.
“I have a personal relationship at First National Bank. I can walk in and everyone says, ‘Hi Cynthia!’ That feels good to me,” Cynthia said. “They are always friendly and attentive to my needs. And when the bank president eats at my restaurant he knows my name and I know his. That’s very important to me as a customer.”
The expansion has brought with it later hours, new appetizers and a six-entrée dinner menu, including steak, pasta and salmon dishes, and a Friday fish fry. The dinner menu pairs well with a new drink menu that includes eight craft cocktails and eight wines by the glass or bottle. The restaurant also nearly doubled its seating.
“Even though we’ve had our liquor license the entire time, we never really had room for alcohol before the expansion,” Cynthia said. “We wanted to create some craft cocktails and a small wine list for people who are wanting a quiet date. We now have something to offer them.”
So far, the community has embraced the expansion and Cynthia looks forward to a long relationship with the greater Hartford area.
“I feel like the customers are my family,” Cynthia said. “I try to instill a culture where we’re not just feeding tummies, we’re feeding hearts. It’s not just about the money in our pocket, but how you make people feel. If people feel like they’re welcomed and you care about them, they’ll come back.”
“From the bank president down to the tellers, everyone at First National Bank is supportive of me. They come to the restaurant and that keeps us all like a family.”