SHERBURN - If you've always wanted to run your own cafe, the opportunity might be one essay away.
In a big reveal here Thursday morning, it was announced that the Cup and Saucer Cafe and Sweet Shoppe will be given away through an essay contest.
After being run by Pat Hanson and her family for more than 60 years, the cafe closed for about a year and a half. Last fall, local businessman Gene Scheppmann re-opened it with help from others in the community. But it was never his plan to run the cafe for the long term.
"It was always his intention to turn it over to someone else," said Bryan Stading, director of the Regional Center for Entrepreneurial Facilitation and an adviser to the Martin County economic development program.
"We knew he was interested in selling it or even giving it away," added Sherburn Mayor Dorothy Behne. "But that's not as easy as you would think. So we contacted [the county] and it's gone on from there."
"It's important for small towns to have a working cafe, and we also knew we needed to help find a new owner," Stading said.
The essay contest idea came about with the help of a business class from Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. The class has taken on the project to assist in the publicity, marketing, collecting of applications and attracting of a new owner.
"They are applying their business learning to a real project," Stading said.
Essays are expected to be no more than three pages and address why the applicant should be the new cafe owner, as well as his or her plans to help improve the cafe, along with the Sherburn community. Some of the requirements that judges will look for include the willingness to work long hours, and possession of a strong sense of community.
"They'll need someone who understands the restaurant business," Behne said. "We want to be able to give it to someone deserving, but [who] also has an understanding of the business and its role in a small town."
There is a $75 entry fee for the contest that will go toward the development of the cafe.
"It's a 'pay it forward' account to help the new owners and also spur other business development," Stading said.
The new owners also will receive advice from Scheppmann and the Martin County Economic Development Authority.
"We look at this as an opportunity for an entrepreneur to step forward," Stading said. "We see storefronts closing every day, and we want to reverse that trend. The food service and having a business in a small town is challenging."
Stading hopes the unique opportunity will gather attention beyond the region.
"We probably just have our toe in the door," he said. "The story tells itself. Our job is to help find a new owner and help with that transition. I think the exposure is just beginning, because we're so used to businesses closing, so something like this is almost unheard of."
The essay contest will be begin Thursday and run through April 8. It can be entered online at www.martincountyeda.org