SALEM — It’s a relaxed scene Monday afternoon outside Mom & Pop’s Pastry Shop.
A few dozen patrons of the longtime Salem coffee shop and bakery sit and mingle outside the downtown eatery that is celebrating four decades of pastries, coffee and conversation. As door prizes for the event are announced over the public address system, Joy Grape, owner and founder, takes it all in.
“I’ve been here for 40 years, and I’m happy to be here. It’s a very caring community,” Grape told the Mitchell Republic.
The Salem native, 70, started Mom & Pop’s in 1981 in a historic building that dates back to 1899 after a stint of working in similar positions in Sioux Falls and California. In the four decades since, her gathering spot has been a source of tasty treats, Sunday breakfasts, coffee and the conversation that goes so well with all of them.
Starting the shop was a natural progression in her career, which stretches back to a love of whipping up goodies since she was a young girl.
“I have always been (a baker) from the age of 5,” Grape said as she and her customers took in the warm midday sun. “I worked in Sioux Falls at Fantles as their pastry cook for a while and then in California for a couple of years.”
The small store features a variety of baked goods and also serves noon specials and breakfast. The menu is a sweet tooth’s dream, with homemade pies and buns, rolls and donuts all on tap. She has been known to prepare ready-to-eat Thanksgiving dinners with turkey and all the trimmings in the first or second week of November. She estimates about 175 people stop in for the holiday meal every year.
She is open seven days a week and is the only full-time employee, putting in hours every day between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Grape confesses that it is long hours and hard work, but the residents have always responded well to her cooking and treats.
Of course, she tests everything for taste to make sure it matches her exacting standards.
“I’ll eat anything,” she said with a chuckle.
Those who attended the reception Monday also know what they like. From the homemade caramel rolls to Sunday lunch, there is something for most everyone at Mom & Pop’s.
“It’s worth coming, for sure,” said John Osterberg, who was helping with the public address system at the open house and said he often stops at the shop on Sundays. “What I like about the bakery is that there are still fresh pastries you can get in town. And it’s good for the community to have a place to help with weddings and funerals and anything like that.”
Kevin Bright, who worked with Grape at the Delite Bakery in San Luis Obispo in California in the 1970s, made the trip to South Dakota to help his friend and former colleague celebrate her decades of work. He knows first-hand that Grape has spent years honing her cooking skills into a fine art.
“I met Joy in 1975 at the Delite Bakery in San Luis Obispo. I was already working there doing a variety of jobs, and one day I walked in and there was Joy,” Bright said. “So we worked side-by-side decorating cakes and stuff, and we just got to be friends.”
This trip marked Bright’s second trip in 25 years to Salem to visit Grape, and he has taken a liking to the town and its residents.
“She has really good cookies,” Bright said. “I’m glad I could be here, it was so much fun. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, but we exchanged Christmas cards.”
Grape has become accustomed to the demanding hard work that comes with operating a bakery and coffee shop. She is invariably up every day at 3:30 a.m., something she needs to do to get baking and have items ready for her customers.
And while the long days are something she is used to, after 40 years, it wears on a person.
“My body is wearing out, but I’ve learned to call it quits at 2 p.m. That coffee crowd doesn’t pay the light bills,” Grape laughed.
But her customers have loyally supported her. The community even helped with some sprucing-up remodeling efforts prior to the big celebration. And as she chats and watches over the crowd Monday, it is clear she knows and can hold a conversation with anyone.
She doesn’t take any of that small-town closeness for granted.
“That’s one thing about a small town. It’s a very caring community,” Grape said.
There have been challenges over the years, the most recent being the COVID-19 outbreak, which slowed business. She said the pandemic made the restaurant business tough, but thankfully a stimulus check helped keep her moving forward when the times were tough.
But sure enough, when the pandemic ebbed, the customers returned and she has been moving forward ever since. The happy moods of Grape, her friends and customers on Monday confirms that. She figures she would like to work for another five years or so before thinking about retirement, though she’s not sure even that will slow her down.
“I think I’ll always have to do something,” Grape said.