For a space that previously housed a tailor, pet store and bakery, the interior of the Morning Sun CafÃ© looks like it was made to be a restaurant. Between the hardwood floors, black leather booths, and rolled silverware set out Friday evening for the Saturday morning rush, the restaurant is everything a cafÃ© should be. White walls display various works of art including an iconic Audrey Hepburn image and a painting of a tree resembling Van Gogh’s pointillism. As Tom Petty’s “American Girl” plays in the background, I venture from the main room through a doorway where the restaurant continues.
In the second room, a woman sits behind a counter. Her name is Missy, and she has been a server at the cafÃ© since August.
At 3 p.m. Friday, the restaurant is completely empty, one hour away from closing. Saturday and Sunday mornings are the busiest.
Missy said the restaurant is owned by the same local family that owns the upscale Stella around the corner. Their son, Nate Uhl, is the working manager.
On cue, a young man walks in and introduces himself as Nate. “I can’t talk today because it’s Valentine’s Day, so I have to hurry over to Stella to help with dinner,” he says. “I’m free Monday though if you want to come back!”
As I explore, I notice a child’s voice and see there is a girl of about seven or eight in the restaurant. I wonder if she is the one responsible for the crayon drawings displayed behind the counter.
I leave shortly after, pleasantly surprised with how welcoming everyone was. When I reenter the restaurant Monday afternoon, I am greeted once again by Missy. Nate has not yet come in for the day.
“You could talk to Charlie,” Missy suggests, motioning to a man sitting alone nearby. He is middle-aged and balding, clad in a green Ohio University hoodie, navy sweatpants, and white New Balance shoes.
Charlie Herms has been coming to the Morning Sun CafÃ© about once a week for several years.
While Charlie doesn’t have “any crazy stories” about the cafÃ©, he enjoys it nonetheless.
“I like the food and the atmosphere. This is a place where I come to eat and see my friends,” he said.
At a table to my left, an older couple is quietly enjoying their meal. The woman has a long gray ponytail and turquoise earrings. Despite my close proximity I cannot hear what they are saying.
I see Nate Uhl enter out of the corner of my eye. I continue eavesdropping, allowing him to get settled in.
“Charlie?” The woman with the gray hair questioned. “You went to the prom with my sister!”
Charlie squints at her a moment before breaking into a grin. “Hi Beth!” he exclaimed. “How is Caroline?”
“Good,” the gray-haired woman answered. “She lives in Cincinnati, plays violin at weddings and events. I heard you say your name and I recognized you!”
While they catch up, I approach Nate.
He jumps up to greet me, saying, “I just wanted to let you finish what you were writing over there!” Like last time, Nate wears a white baseball cap that says Stella on it. He holds a cup of coffee and invites me to join him at a table near the window.
The Uhl family has owned The Morning Sun CafÃ© since 2009, creating it as a complement to Stella.
“Morning Sun closes at 4:00 and Stella opens at 4:00, so they work together,” Nate explained.
Oxford residents since 1984, Nate’s mother teaches at Miami while his father owns a logistics company. His father opened his restaurants out of a desire for “something fresher and home-cooked that would fit his appetite.”
The restaurant doesn’t own a microwave. Every dish is made to order. Rather than buy egg whites, they separate yolk from white by hand.
The popular breakfast quesadilla and Nate’s favorite breakfast bagel are each seven dollars.
Near the kitchen, I see the same young girl from Friday. She wears a polka-dot skirt with leggings and has a headband in her hair.
“That little girl is so cute,” Nate said. He explains that Missy the waitress is married to the head chef. The girl is their daughter. Until recently, they were renting a home from Nate’s parents. Nate smiles as he talks about them, making it believable that his favorite part of managing his restaurants is the staff.
This personal arrangement surprises me, but explains the strong feeling of camaraderie in the cafÃ©.
“We’re friends,” Nate said. “We’re here for work, but we enjoy working together.”
Between the positive attitudes, laid back environment, and connections outside of work, the team here at Morning Sun seems to be more than friends. They are a family all their own.