Patrons will still be able to get their weekend breakfast fix at the East Johnson Street favorite.
Sophia Barabas has changed her mind. In July, she announced that she was selling Sophia’s Bakery & Cafe. She opened the restaurant at 831 E. Johnson St. over two decades ago and planned on retiring after finding a new owner. Barabas has now decided to remain at the helm of the breakfast hot spot. The fiery septuagenarian says there was plenty of interest from potential buyers. But it became apparent that Sophia’s just wouldn’t be Sophia’s without — who else? — Sophia.
“I guess it didn’t make a lot of sense to sell my name and my creation to someone else. Even if I sold the recipes and everything else, it just wasn’t going to be the same,” says Barabas. She thinks that potential buyers perceived that, too. “So it just didn’t happen. And the more it didn’t happen, the more I felt like, ‘What I am doing?’ It came to me that there was nothing else to do but keep going.”
The news will be well received by Sophia’s loyal clientele. Barabas says after she put the restaurant on the market, there was “a lot of sadness” in the air.
“We had a lot of crying people who came in. The response was more than we expected,” says Barabas. “Now, I don’t want any impression that we aren’t here. We aren’t going anywhere.”
Over the years, Sophia’s has developed a mystique enjoyed by few restaurants in Madison. A number of factors drive the intrigue: Her space is teeny, unpretentious and easily overlooked, and it’s open only on weekends, 8 a.m.-2 .pm. No coffee mug or plate is exactly the same. Yet the eatery is frequently packed with customers, with a line out the door.
“When we started, we were only one of a handful of places that was a true breakfast place in the model of [the now defunct] Ovens of Brittany,” says Barabas. “We were unique at that point. Now there are lots of brunch places. But we just keeping doing what we do.”
Sophia’s will remain a family affair. Barabas’ adult daughters — Christa Parmentier and Becky Parmentier — will to continue to help run the restaurant. In recent years, Christa has been baking alongside her mother, while Becky has worked the front of the house.
“Becky is in school, so she’ll be working less but will still be helping out,” Barabas says. “Christa has some other things going on and wants to spend more time with her family but is still involved. She’s my right-hand person.”
The restaurant is in the process of bringing on some new staff in the next few months. Other than that, Barabas says not to expect many other changes to Sophia’s. “We’ll just keep on trucking.”