Wednesday, August 27, 2014
The GramCracker Café didn’t get its name from Nabisco. A couple who are themselves a gramma and a Florida cracker concocted it.
The prerequisites for being a gramma are pretty easily met—just have a kid who has a kid, maybe even bake pies all the time. But what does it take to proclaim oneself “Cracker”?
Lynne Miller, co-owner with husband Steve of Englewood’s GramCracker Café, is a gram by both measures, but can never—due to a technicality—be a cracker. She wasn’t born here. And yet, young as she is, she bears witness to a lot of local history.
Sitting around her café with old friends, amid ladderback chairs, rooster crockery, and a 1920s Hoosier cabinet that she once used in her own kitchen, she takes a minute off from baking pies to tell some old stories.
Lynne’s grandparents Edith and Herman Paulsen helped mold Englewood’s history, but they, too, came from someplace else. Born of Iowa farming stock, they moved here from upstate New York in 1955.
In 1958, Herm and Edith bought 5 acres of land on Lemon Bay for $80,000, building a home there with an expansive view of the water and digging the canal that now lines Magnolia Avenue. For two years, the land bore only their name and none other: Paulsen Point.
After Hurricane Donna, Lynne’s parents moved down from New York and settled on the bay as well. Then began a drama only sketchily remembered by Lynne and her contemporaries, but preserved in local news. On her grandfather’s land were the remains of a Native American midden, an ancient trash heap of shells, implements, and pottery, dating to 1000 B.C. In 1960, Sarasota County announced plans to purchase the land and soon closed the deal, nearly stealing the plat for tens of thousands less than Herm had paid. The site would become Indian Mound Park. Three years later, Herm collapsed and died while working at the nearby Poinciana apartment cottages, which he’d just bought.
Lynne remembers playing near her grandfather’s house, in the jungle that was Indian Mound Park in the sixties. She lost her shoe there, in the silty black muck piled up from the dredging of the Intracoastal, a project that nearly destroyed the ancient site. Lynne and her grade-school pals were among local “amateur archaeologists” whom news stories reported digging up arrowheads and pottery fragments there.
It’s a small town, Englewood. Steve Miller, the Florida-born-and-bred cracker of this tale, and Lynne (Lemonde) Miller went through school here in the sixties. After Lynne’s first husband died and Steve divorced, their paths kept crossing. They hung out at Englewood Bowl’s lounge in the late seventies and married in 1980.
They never seem to stop working, much of the time in the hospitality industry. Lynne waitressed at Howard’s Restaurant through the nineties, bought the Day’s Inn, sold it, then moved back home to upstate New York with Steve.
There they bought a white clapboard 14-room motel—the Colonial Inn--and a pre–Civil War house. It was in the sort of sweet little town where you could tack a note on the office door with some keys, saying, “We’ll be right back. It’s $75 a night.”
But upstate New York isn’t so charming year round. After they’d returned to Florida for the winter, they got a phone call telling them that an ice floe from a leaky pipe was rolling down the side of their antique house.
A year of repairs later, seeing another winter coming, they came home to Englewood for good.
In 2010, Lynne and Steve opened the first GramCracker Café in Willow Plaza on Placida Road. She was, and still is, always busy with catering and holiday baking. Last Thanksgiving this gramma produced nearly 80 pies.
Since June, the café has been in its new spot on Rte. 776--a more accessible, cozier space that feels like a family kitchen. Just look for the bright green building next to The Sportsman’s Pub.