Just a little over 14 years ago, Betsy St. George opened St. George’s Café. She was new to the game, but she was sure of two things: her ability to bake, and her knowledge of Henniker, New Hampshire.
After moving out of Franklin, Massachusetts in the wake of 9/11, the St. Georges looked for a place like Henniker, where they could garden, enjoy beach days, and raise a family.
St. George, previously a teacher’s aide at Henniker Community School, was already involved in the town. When On the Way Café, the business that previously resided at 9 Weare Road, went up for sale, it seemed impossible that she would own it.
“I had never worked in a restaurant in my life, and the man that owned the place before me passed away, so I had no one to help me figure it out,” she said. “But people kept trying to talk me into it, so we watched it for six months.”
During that time, St. George kept doing what she likes most: baking for other people. She finally decided to participate in the farmers market she frequented, bringing her cookies and muffins to sell.
She sold out in an hour.
“That gave me the boost to do it,” St. George said. On the 10th of September in 2005, their business opened.
“The first few years were really tough. I was there a lot, and then we ran into the recession of 2008.” Business halted for most of Henniker, but when people started to return to the restaurants around town, they couldn’t afford the “fine dining at places like the Country Spirit,” and gravitated towards St. George’s. “That’s how we held on. I didn’t get paid for a year or two, but we didn’t lose our business.” Since then, it has been booming, with every year getting “busier, busier, busier,” with 2019 as their “breaking point.”
And through all the rough patches, St. George’s biggest fan was still cheering Betsy on: Abby Myskowski, one of the fifth graders in the classroom she worked in, was intent on buying St. George’s when she grew up.
“Abby was always saying, ‘I’m going to own that someday.’” St. George said. But, despite all the begging, she wouldn’t let her start working there until she turned 18.
In 2011, Myskowski, going into the café to pick up lunch, was chased after as she left. An employee, who was moving to college at the end of the summer, asked her if she wanted to take her job. “I’ll never forget that day,” she said.
Working for St. George on and off throughout her college years at SNHU, and working towards a degree in business administration, Myskowski, one of the top students of her class, was urged to apply to companies like Fidelity. Much to the annoyance of her professors, her response was always, “No, I want to work with small businesses.”
After college, she came back to Henniker and started working at the café again, but eventually left to pursue an automotive repair business with her boyfriend. In the back of her mind, though, Myskowski kept her dream alive.
The call of St. George’s Café lured Myskowski back in January of this year. Initially, just like St. George 14 years ago, she couldn’t imagine owning the restaurant. At only 26 years old, she thought that she was too young to be approved for a loan that large, but with the urging of her friends, Myskowski applied and was approved.
“It’s kind of a funny feeling,” Myskowski said. “For years I’ve wanted to own a café or bakery. Ever since I started working here, I just loved it so much…When I came back here, it just seemed like it all fell into place.”
The pair plans for the sale to be finalized by the end of October, and St. George will be handing over the business she built from the ground up.
In the future, Myskowski plans on adding to the menu, but promises that she’ll keep “everyone’s favorites.” With the growing demand for vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options, she has started thinking of local bakeries she can reach out to in order to expand options for everyone with dietary restrictions.
She also wants to hold her business to a high standard and remain aware of how she impacts both the world and her community.
“I feel as a business owner you have a much bigger footprint, so if I can reduce my carbon footprint and make more of an impact in my community any way I can, I owe it to everybody,” Myskowski said.
As for Betsy St. George, she plans on taking time to relax and get her house in order, “I’m going to take a year and spend a lot of time with my garden and visit St. G’s with my friends, enjoy lunch.”
In the next few years, she wants to move to Maine with her husband, Dave St. George, in order to be closer to the ocean, continue to garden, and kayak.
“It’s a nice transition, it feels right. It feels like I’ve finally come to this point where everything’s happening the way it should.”