MINT HILL — Tucked away in the McEwen Shopping Center on Lawyers Road, a stone's throw from Home Styles Gallery, sits a quaint little cafe that’s unassuming and bright. Plants adorn the outside and sunflowers are painted on the windows, beckoning passersby to explore what must be a friendly and welcoming space.
Upon entering, the tall ceiling, 1940s bakery case and exposed brick wall covered with local artwork make you feel like you discovered a hidden gem. But the best part about the Sunflower Club Cafe is that it’s actually more than just a cafe. It’s a hub of community outreach and collaboration.
Owners Sarah McGinn and AmySue Salvatore met through the homeschool community and realized they had a joint dream of opening a cafe that also helped middle-class families fallen on hard times.
They named their business Sunflower Club Cafe because sunflowers are a universal symbol of hope, helping and joy. One sunflower is made up of thousands of tiny flowers and when skies are gray, they face each other and share their energy. That’s the root of the cafe’s mission — to share resources with those in need, Salvatore said.
The cafe funds its outreach through a $10 annual membership fee, but you don’t have to be a member to enjoy the cafe. Members get additional benefits, discounts and access to members-only events and menu items, as well as the ability to reserve the cafe for private events. The money helps McGinn and Salvatore feed community members who are struggling but don’t meet the income requirements for other programs and organizations.
Families and individuals identified through HopeMatch are invited to a sit-down dinner after hours at Sunflower Club Cafe. This gives McGinn and Salvatore a chance to learn about their needs in a casual atmosphere and pair them with those who can help — Refinery Church next door has a pantry with food and supplies and a Home Styles vendor donates clothing.
McGinn said the homeschooling community is like a co-op where everyone pitches in depending on their strengths. She said they were relieved to find the same environment in the McEwen Shopping Center with many of the merchants wanting to collaborate to support their mission.
“When we opened in May, it was an immediate welcoming,” said Salvatore, who lives in Mint Hill.
In addition to the outreach, Sunflower Club Cafe is a place where artists and artisans can sell their work and customers can enjoy coffee, tea and fresh, locally made baked goods from vendors like Harris House Cinnamon Rolls (made by a homeschool mom from Matthews) and My Three Little Birds Bakery.
One of the most popular drinks is the Butterfly Flower Latte, which is layered with sweetened pomegranate juice, milk of choice and butterfly flower herbal tea.
“It’s great because you get this beautiful red, white and blue, but there’s no food coloring,” McGinn said.
The cafe also offers salads and a full menu of Belgian waffles with quirky names that aren’t just for breakfast. There’s the Berry White — vanilla waffle, fresh mixed berries and fresh whipped cream — and the Pam Beesley & Jim, like the characters from “The Office” but also a play on the PB&J — vanilla waffle, peanut butter, local jam and powdered sugar.
If you’re going for savory, try the Totes My Goats — rosemary waffle, crispy air fried chicken, goat cheese and pepper jelly — or the popular BLT — herb waffle, bacon, lettuce, tomato, basil and a secret aioli.
“I can’t tell you everything that’s in it,” McGinn said.
Waffle Babies are half the size and come in more traditional flavors, making them perfect for kids or anyone with a light appetite. McGinn and Salvatore said it was important to them to offer gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan options upon request and at no additional cost.
Plus, all the ingredients are fresh, locally grown and organic whenever possible. The eggs are from McGinn’s own farm in Waxhaw.
“Everything is natural,” McGinn said. “If we’re not going to feed it to our family then we’re not going to feed it to anyone else.”
Sunflower Club Cafe has only been open for a month but has already amassed several dedicated, regular customers. Salvatore said there are people who come in specific days just for a certain featured waffle.
“Mint Hill people are just fiercely loyal to their small businesses and have been waiting for a place like this,” Salvatore said.
At this point, it’s unclear who enjoys being in the cafe more: the owners or the customers. McGinn and Salvatore describe the vibe as calming, welcoming, bright and airy. Most days, they said they'll catch themselves just looking around, admiring the space.
McGinn likes the vintage bakery case and imagining the baker who first stood behind it. Salvatore likes the 100-year-old church pews they use as seating and thinks about the people who sat there for weddings, funerals and Sunday service.
“We love that we’re already a place where people want to come and hang out. We love to hang out here,” Salvatore said. “Some days, even I don’t want to leave this place.”