Jason and Cheri Mullenix sit at a table of the restaurant they own, the Park Avenue Café, located in what used to be the auditorium of the old Bluff Park Elementary School. “We have people tell us all the time that the community needed a place like us: a nice place to come, look at art, and have a nice cup of coffee. A place where people can relax,” says Cheri.
Jason, an experienced pastry chef, runs the kitchen while Cheri runs the front of the house. The Park Avenue Café has definitely made a home in this small corner of Hoover.
The café opened three months ago in view of plans to turn the school building into a gallery for local artists’ collective Artists on the Bluff. Local artists have flocked to the location to set up their studios and galleries in former classroom spaces. “We are a nonprofit organization that’s owned by the city of Hoover,” Jason explains.
“We have a very diverse family of artists here. We have welders, painters, sculptors, carpenters — we even have one woman who just paints honey bears,” he says. “It’s a very close unit and everyone is very supportive of everyone’s work.”
The Bluff even offers a variety of art classes for people who live in the community. “There are quite a few people who take classes here, actually. One in particular that comes to mind is there’s a woman who specializes in making glass. Her class is pretty popular.”
The artists’ pieces are displayed throughout the school’s hallways and are even set up in the café. “We wanted to be able to promote some of our, well, neighbors,” Jason says. “So we like to display [the art] as much as we can, and it adds to the feel of the café as well.”
The café was the last piece of the puzzle when it came to completing the Artists on the Bluff, he says. “I definitely think they were looking for something that could help spread the word about what this place offers. And what better way to do that than with good food?”
A strong sense of community is one of the things that make the café’s location so prime, according to Jason. “You really can call this place [Bluff Park] Mayberry. When we first moved here we saw kids walking to school by themselves and people were amused at how shocked we were. Everyone knows everyone, there’s no bad blood between anyone. It’s a really tight-knit community — almost like one giant family. And I think that’s why people like us so much. We wanted to bring people a place that gave off that same sense of community.”
When it comes to the café’s selections, patrons can expect a satisfying yet healthy menu. “I’ve been a pastry chef for about 10 years now so I modeled the menu around breads and pastries. We serve soups, salads and sandwiches, and some specialty breakfast items.” Everything on the menu is made fresh daily in-house. “We have a lot of organic and healthy items on the menu, but what I really wanted to bring people is good homemade food,” he says.
The food is already making its own reputation, according to the Mullenixes. “Our flatbreads are very popular, and so are our soufflés,” Jason says.
Cheri laughs. “There’s one woman who says ever since she’s had our soufflé she wants to throw rocks at Panera for pretending they’re even half as good as ours,” she says.
Even their new espresso machine has caught customers’ attention. “It’s so hard to find a good cup of coffee around here. We definitely want to provide people with that service,” Cheri says.
The café’s popularity has slowly started to pick up its pace, but the overall reception it has received is positive. “We have some regulars that come in quite often,” says Cheri. “At first people didn’t even know anything was here until they heard we were serving food. Then more and more people started to come eat and then realized they could tour the galleries, so we have steadily increasing following.”
As far as growth goes, Jason says they have big plans. “We’re hoping to expand the café into a private dining room on the other side of the wall. We also want to expand the menu and add some more sophisticated options.”
The café is only open for breakfast and lunch, but Jason is hoping to possibly expand to dinner hours soon. “We also want to take full advantage of the stage area. Since we are located in what used to be the auditorium we have full access to the stage, so we want to bring some events into the café to entertain people.” Possible events could include poetry readings, open mic nights and ballet performances.
For more information on Park Avenue Café or Artists on the Bluff, visit their website or call (205) 637-5946.