Cheryl Pearce and her daughter Sandra have owned The Sandstone Café in downtown Tenino for ten years. The café is where people of Tenino come together daily, a place people drive in from out of town to visit and a gathering place for groups of all kinds. Churches reserve their banquet room for Sunday after-service gatherings and just about every business meeting in town is held there during the week. The Tenino Chamber of Commerce holds their monthly meetings at the Café. Servers see regular customers coming from down the street and greet them at their favorite tables.
The Café has a solid group of regulars, some of whom come in five to seven days a week for breakfast or lunch. Everyone knows each other – customers, servers, cooks and owners alike. For the Pearces, it has become an extended family, one that’s been built steadily over the years. The family feel even has resulted in customers contributing to the décor of the restaurant, bringing in antique, eclectic country items that are now displayed on the walls and on shelves.
Cheryl’s advice to any Tenino business owner is to keep in mind the needs of this small community. The people are her favorite part of running a business in Tenino and she is very involved in the community, supporting community causes and offering her restaurant as a meeting spot. She loves the appreciation she gets from customers and the feeling is mutual.
Cheryl now lives closer to the café, but she lived in Olympia when she first became an owner. And, during that first season, she decided not to make any changes right away. She wanted to build loyalty first and that decision paid off. Locals became extremely loyal and the café became a bustling central hub of the downtown community.
Cheryl’s favorite lunch they serve is the chicken salad and she loves the specials presented. They have specials every weekend and when Cheryl recently visited Arizona on vacation and was inspired by the food, she created a special called the Desert Sun. This breakfast skillet includes southwest flavors including peppers, avocado and tomato, all topped with salsa and sour cream.
Popular breakfast items include Sandstone’s egg skillets, French toast, eggs Benedict and chicken fried steak. Feeling extra indulgent? The Sandstone Café has a prime rib breakfast the first Friday of the month, a favorite for many. Cheryl shares that they use all fresh vegetables and organic spring mix and spinach. They source produce locally when they can and utilize the local farmers market during the open season.
What The Sandstone Café serves is what you might call “home cooking.” Biscuits are served with homemade gravy, hash browns come browned and crisp, sweet French toast and stacks of fluffy hotcakes are breakfast staples. The chicken fried steak and eggs are on the list of house specialties at breakfast, and are a big favorite with regulars.
For lunch, try a classic patty or tuna melt or go with Cheryl’s favorite chicken salad. The house lunch specials include a burger called the West Coast Slammer, which includes bacon, BBQ sauce, cheddar jack cheese, lettuce and tomato, all topped with an enormous onion ring. True to the classic café menu, The Sandstone Café also offers French dip sandwiches, Philly cheese steaks, baskets of breaded shrimp, chicken and fish that all come with fries.
When I stopped into The Sandstone Café I ordered a grilled cheese, which comes with a choice of salad, soup or fries as a side dish. I opted for the soup at the recommendation of my server. She was wearing a Sandstone Café t-shirt that said, “Tenino Rocks” on it, and was incredibly nice and attentive.
She shared that the soup of the day, corn chowder, was looking great and she was right. It was homemade and extremely delicious. I visited after the lunch rush on a Sunday afternoon, so there were plenty of tables and my food came quickly. And, while I had a relatively quiet afternoon at the café, regulars warn that The Sandstone Café can get very busy for breakfast, especially on the weekends. However, they are quick to follow up that it’s always worth the wait.
Great service is a hallmark of The Sandstone Café. Every single one of their online reviews mentions the service and the food in equal measure. The café often replies to their reviews with equally friendly responses that sound like they are addressing friends.
The Sandstone Café is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch. Their banquet room, which holds 35 people, is available to rent seven days a week and sometimes can be booked in the evenings. Food is also available to-go.
As I was leaving I texted a friend of mine in Olympia, describing the food and the décor. “Your mom would love the Sandstone Café!” I shared with her. And that’s one of the hallmarks of this neighborhood eatery: you’ll always find good food, good service and a great place to be together with family and friends.
The Sandstone Café
273 Sussex Ave. W, Tenino