‘Serving all the people that serve the people’: Sherry Bullard steps away from the County Cafe after 30 years
Between moving hot coffee urns and preparing sandwiches, Sherry Bullard cultivated connections that supported the county’s policy makers and its workers for over three decades.
Before her retirement last week, Bullard offered a safe space and nourishment to those visiting the County Cafe in the Eric Rood Administrative Center.
“She’s been serving all the people that serve the people,” said Danny Newlon, the retired veteran who took over the cafe after Bullard’s retirement last Friday.
Newlon said he has big shoes to fill, and hopes to steward the space in a similarly professional and compassionate manner.
“She’s very personable, so you know she cares,” Newlon said. “She doesn’t have to do anything above and beyond.”
Sandra Copher has frequented the cafe for calories and conversation for the entirety of the 17 years she’s worked in the County Assessor’s Office. Copher knew of the cafe upon hire, but it was not until she saw a crowd of children in the cafe that she realized just how much county employees relied on Bullard’s constancy and generosity.
“I started in 2004 when my son was young,” Copher explained. “He was really sick and couldn’t go to school, so I had to keep him at the office.”
Copher said that day, she went to the cafe at lunch and saw other children there. When Copher inquired about the younger crowd clearly not there to cast ballots or file memorandums, she discovered that several of the county employees entrusted their children to Bullard in the time between the start and end of their work days, and their children’s bus pickups and drop offs.
“I asked, ‘Can I add my kid?’ and she was like, ‘As long as he is well behaved,’” Copher said.
Copher said Bullard’s oversight of the children was casual and understated — no payment or formal sign up sheet — just a small but significant way she made her coworkers’ lives easier.
“(Our friendship) sort of grew from there,” Copher said.
Newlon, who began managing the cafe on Monday, said he was impressed by how many of customers Bullard knows by name.
“Half the time she’ll tell you what their order is before they order it,” Newlon said, adding that Bullard’s tenure in the cafe, preparing the goods or connecting with customers, made the space operate like a well oiled, human-powered machine. “She knows the ins and outs.”
Newlon said good customer service requires some degree of intimacy, but the trust built between Bullard and her customers was not solely transactional.
“What makes her stand out in my mind is that she probably knows a lot more than she lets on, but she’s a very private person and would never disclose information that she knew,” Newlon said. “I just get that feeling about her, it’s the way she is.”
Copher said Bullard became one of her most valuable confidants over years of shared breakfast and occasional lunch.
“I see her in the morning and sit and talk, we sit down to lunch if she has time,” Copher said.
These daily chats helped create a foundation for friendship that offered personal support in a professional environment.
Copher said Bullard helped her process her mother’s death and familial crises as they arose over the years.
“When I found out my mom was on hospice and I had to take time off work to be with her, Sherry listened to me,” Copher said, adding that the support was greatly appreciated given the pressure she was under to prioritize her work over her family. “It’s great to have a friend … that is always there for you, to listen to you, to laugh when you need to and to cry when you need it.”
Bullard said that the hardest part of relocating to Reno for her husband’s new job is saying goodbye to all of the good friends she made while owning and operating the County Cafe.
“I’ve cried so much in the last week,” Bullard said. “I’ve made a lot of good friends there just through the employees.”
Bullard said she is not sure if there is anyone currently employed by the county who has worked in that building longer than she has. She’s known people for decades who feel like family.
“It’s been rough leaving,” Bullard said. “It’s been part of my life for so long, I don’t know what to do.”
Bullard first began her first job at the County Cafe when she was 19. Her father was stationed at Beale Air Force Base and the family moved west from Virginia after Bullard graduated high school.
Bullard said there were three owners of the cafe before she bought the place herself in 2005.
“When the last owner said he didn’t want to do it anymore, he offered it to me,” Bullard explained. “I didn’t want to leave, and I bought it. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done.”
The investment paid off. Bullard said she was off on all holidays, weekends and nights with “the perfect hours for raising kids.”
“That was one of the main reasons I never left,” Bullard said. “I wanted those hours to be available for my kids.”
Bullard’s two daughters — now 22 and 25 years old — grew up helping her stock sodas after school.
“They’d come in after school. The bus stop is right there at Cement Hill, so they helped me stock sodas,” Bullard said. “They’ve been really sad for me to let it go.”
Bullard said her daughters thought of her as a good model for professionalism as a woman owning her own business.
“They always thought of me as a very hard worker and dedicated,” Bullard said. “They knew my job was important. They knew how much I love my employees and that was important to me.”
Bullard said she felt the fruits of her friendship during the various peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic. One third of the people who normally work in the building chose to continue to work from their office, Bullard said, and they were integral to her business’ survival.
“I had so many customers come through saying, ‘I don’t need to buy anything, but I’m gonna buy from you just to support you,’ because they knew I was struggling,” Bullard explained. “Everyone was working from home, so there was one third of my customers left in the building and that third pulled me through.”
Copher said Bullard has amassed only good karma while working at the County Cafe.
“We get a lot of homeless in, some who are released from the jail. They come in and they don’t have actual money. If they are polite, she will give them what they ask for without charging them,” Copher said.
Bullard said she feels privileged to receive people wherever they are emotionally when they enter her cafe.
“People just need to vent. If they’re unhappy with a situation at home, with a boss, or if they’re celebrating, they just want someone to tell and be excited for them,” Bullard said. “Most of the time it’s just listening.”
Bullard said the only real drama she can recall from her 30 years at the cafe was in spring 2020 when people were reeling from the government shutdown.
“The public was not happy that the (supervisors) weren’t open to the public,” Bullard said. “They banged on my windows, and I had to shut down just to keep me safe.”
Bullard said she is looking forward to her next adventure, but cannot measure her gratitude for the past and the opportunity to nourish lifelong friendships.
“We’ve celebrated, we cried, we’ve gotten mad together, we’ve shed a lot of tears over the years,” Bullard said. “I feel very honored that they trust me enough to share.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com
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