Meet your merchant: With the goal of family time, Penny Dunbar sold her diner and bought Sierra Mountain Coffee in Grass Valley
Sierra Mountain Coffee
671 Maltman Dr., Grass Valley
Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday
8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday
Let’s face it, Penny Dunbar loves to be busy.
She got her first restaurant job at the age of 15 and she hasn’t stopped since. In the early days, she worked at the now-defunct Omelette Pan, then spent many years at Humpty Dumpty Kitchen. In 2008, she opened her own business, Penny’s Diner, in Grass Valley’s Fowler Center, with the help of her husband, Chuck, a retired California Highway Patrol officer.
The cafe quickly became the “go to” place for locals, both young and old, thanks to a varied and affordable quality menu.
“We had so many longtime regulars,” she said. “They’d start talking to one another, then pretty soon they would push their tables together and start meeting every week. It’s a place where people end up making good friends.”
But as Penny’s four children got older and her late father, former Grass Valley mayor Jack Parman, became increasingly ill, family obligations began pulling her away from the daily demands of a large cafe. Not only does she now have two grown sons, she has a grandchild and two teenaged daughters who play competitive sports all over California and parts of Nevada. As a result, Penny opted to sell the diner and take a little time off.
But people who know Penny were pretty sure that wouldn’t last long. In 2017, her sister and brother-in-law, Tonya and David Butterfield, bought Sierra Mountain Coffee Roasters. Not long after, they bought the cafe with the same name when the original owner was ready to retire. But this year, Tonya proposed an idea. What if Penny bought the cafe while Tonya and Dave continued to roast coffee?
“It took a little convincing at first,” said Penny, with a laugh. “But I realized that I missed the cafe atmosphere, but wanted something smaller that would free me up for more family time. This turned out to be perfect.”
Tonya, who also started waitressing at 15 and overlapped with Penny at The Humpty Dumpty, said that having her sister take over the cafe portion of the business was “ideal.”
“I’m still working full time at Penny’s Diner and David owns Butterfield Roofing so it’s worked out well,” said Tonya. “Just doing the roasting gives us each our own schedule. I was so excited when my sister said yes — Penny has experience and has always wanted to run a business that size.”
The Butterfields have a coffee roasting warehouse near the Nevada County Airport and distribute their coffee to various regional businesses.
Penny officially took ownership of Sierra Mountain Coffee (the word “roasters” is no longer in the name) on March 5. With the help of Chuck and other family members, a fresh coat of paint and more tables were added, along with a greater selection of “grab and go” food items. Goodies now include breakfast burritos, wraps, sandwiches, quiche, paninis, smoothies and a variety of baked goods made in-house daily. Daily homemade soups will be available once cooler weather arrives. Chuck is the one who diligently comes in at 5 a.m. to make burritos and sandwiches for the day, said Penny.
A big draw at the cafe, of course, continues to be the famous organic coffee, which includes a variety of light, medium and dark blends, including those with flavors of Sumatra, Peru, Brazil, France, Costa Rica and their house blend.
In keeping with tradition, the cafe continues to be a cozy place that seems to attract all ages. With teenagers of her own, Penny understands that young people are always looking for a place to settle and do their homework. That’s why she welcomes the nearby Bitney College Preparatory High School students and offers a 15 percent discount to all students.
With the help of her eight employees — some of them extended family members — Penny is now able to attend her daughters’ basketball and volleyball games more regularly.
“I feel like I’ve found the perfect balance between work and family,” she said. “I love the homey atmosphere of Sierra Mountain Coffee, and I now have time to visit with people. Just like Penny’s Diner, people are still coming in and making new friends. That’s why I’ve stayed in this business for so long.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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