Leannas Café is booming!

Breakfast, coffee, pizza, and cheesecake—that’s what dreams are made of. Luckily for Swainsboro and surrounding areas, Leannas exists. The little café on Main Street started in July 2020, and business has been booming ever since for owners Levi and Arianna Stoltzfus.

No strangers to hard work and entrepreneurship, the husband and wife team, along with their six children, of course, relocated to Kite in 2017 when they bought the old Jackie and Betty Minton place with the intention of getting into the natural, grass-fed beef movement. The Stoltzfus Family worked as bakers by trade back home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, an area famous for its Amish community, great cooking, and beautiful country. Shortly after they moved here, thoughts of opening a bakery in this vicinity began to swirl. According to Levi, they considered opening a bakery early on but backed off when The Sugar Bowl opened.

So, how did the Stoltzfuses move from a bakery to what Leannas actually is today? The owners say, in a nutshell, a trip to Kansas City, Missouri is to credit. “We went to a seminar there, and we left inspired,” Levi said. “Since we were running a beef farm, we went there to learn about how to market farm-to-table. The speaker was from one of the top steakhouses in the country, and he made a comment about how difficult it was to find uses for leftover ground beef.”

In that moment, Levi and Arianna thought, “Burger shop!” Though the practicality of a burger shop was evident, Levi had always told himself if the family entered the food service industry again, they would do so with a more artistic intent and a more personal, face-to-face feel. That’s how the business model morphed again—this time to pizza (and the rest of what Leannas does best).

“We always had an interest in bread-baking,” Levi explained. “I guess it’s a situation where you go back to what you know, right? We had visited Europe before and saw how they bake bread; the Europeans do that so well. We had an interest in it, and the tie between pizza and bread is pretty obvious I think. Another thing the Europeans do well is coffee and dessert. Both of those, coffee and dessert, are things you can ‘experience’ as a consumer, and we knew we could personally connect with customers through those avenues.”

While the basic model of their business was hard to nail down, the name came easily. The Stoltzfuses named their bakery back in Pennsylvania after Arianna. When they sold it, the owner kept the bakery’s original name and still uses it today. In terms of the business name, there’s no evidence of Levi’s past involvement as well. The husband and wife team knew exactly what they would call their next business venture before the café locals know and love today ever came to be; it would be, of course, “Leannas,” a name derived from the combination of both “Levi” and Arianna.”

With a clear vision and a name, Levi and Arianna began looking for a place to operate their café. The couple immediately wanted to put the bakery on the farm, but once they saw downtown Swainsboro’s potential and networked to explore the possibility, running Leannas in town seemed to be a no-brainer.

“We saw buildings in town and eventually came to find 113 South Main Street, where we are today. The kitchen and hood were already set up, and it had good parking. We talked to Jerry Cadle, and we were pleased to find that rent on the building wasn’t too high. In addition, everyone we talked to was so encouraging and easy to work with,” Levi recalled. “We could also tell there was a real, genuine effort to make grow downtown Swainsboro.”

At once, Levi and his family went to work making the space their own. The men took on one aspect of the extensive remodeling while the women worked in other ways to spruce up Leannas. Levi and sons worked through the pandemic remodeling the inside, specifically modifying the kitchen and the buffet area. Arianna and her daughters worked on the aesthetic, including the ambient lighting and decor.

“When I look at Leannas, I see so many people and places involved,” Arianna said. “Like the telephone booth... We first saw a vintage phone booth when we went antiquing in Vidalia. We knew right then we wanted one in our store. Levi built our janitorial closet to look like one. When we moved in, there were these huge, white globe lights. They were so nice, but they didn’t match the feel we were going for! So we got permission to take them down and carefully box them up. We were left without light fixtures, though... So we went to Walmart and ended up finding the wire baskets you see hanging today. They fit perfectly. We found the string lights and hung those... And the quilts! The materials came from Pennsylvania, and Debbie Hampton of Kite used those materials to craft what hangs on our walls. One of our workers, Kimberly, penned all of the artwork you see on the cheesecake placards and inside the napkin holders. It’s just beautiful, looking around and seeing so many people’s contributions and different places.”

Today, Leannas is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offering a pizza buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Customers also have the option to order from a menu. Of course, coffee and cheesecake are readily available at any time throughout the day. Leannas has gained quite a following in just six short months, and Levi and Arianna are convinced the “cream of the crop” comes in to do business with them. Through the interactions the Stoltzfuses have had with their customers, they’ve come to learn two things: southern hospitality is second to none and the phrase “shop local” means more here than anywhere else.

Levi says when the family opened the doors of Leannas back in the summer, they were unsure if anyone would come. Much to their surprise, the lines were backed up out of the door. “It’s just different here as opposed to back home. People come here to support us. We’ve gained a whole new viewpoint of life by living and working here. Communities back home are there for you when you need it, certainly... But they don’t do business with you for the wholesome reasons. Here, what we’ve found is our customers, the ‘cream of the crop’ of Swainsboro, come here because they like us, they want us to succeed, they want us to stick around.”

While that’s all good and true, it’s also a fact people here appreciate the goods, too. From the start, Leannas set a goal to be the best in what they do. Part of that goal entailed learning—or professional development, if you will.

Levi, with his interest in baking, planned to go to pizza school. He was scheduled to go to New York City for a week-long course of face-to-face instruction. Then, in true 2020 fashion, coronavirus saw that plan go out the window. Instead, a tech from the school in New York came to Swainsboro and worked with Levi individually. Together, they worked to develop the pizza served at Leannas. The dough is mixed, set out to ferment a little, tossed by hand, and dressed up with top-notch toppings like homemade sauce, grass-fed beef, and cheese that contains a hint of buffalo milk, a secret trick discovered while in Europe and implemented in their restaurant. Leannas pizza, according to Levi, is as close to New York-style pizza you can find in these parts.

The women, on the other hand, went to Texas and attended one of the premier coffee schools in the nation. There, they soaked in the detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to brew quality coffee. Arianna said, “The key to good coffee, we’ve learned, is you have to keep it simple. We also learned that the equipment you use for brewing is super important.” She continued with a laugh, “When we came back from coffee school, we had a list of equipment we wanted—and we got it!”

The origin of the famous cheesecake stems from one of their daughter’s photography ambitions. As a little girl, Katie wanted a nice camera to take pictures with, so she baked a pumpkin cheesecake in the fall to help raise funds. She continued baking through the years. Once the Stoltzfuses moved here, she wanted to open a cheesecake business of her own, but there would be a number of legality issues to sort through before the youngster could work for herself. Once her parents decided to open Leannas, her worries went away; she had a place to bake and sell her dessert. Since then, the cheesecake flavors have evolved and will continue to do so. The recipes have been passed down through the family. What’s more, every cheesecake inside the fridge at Leannas is completely homemade.

In the future, Levi would like to see Leannas build on its family-first atmosphere. In an effort to draw more families in, he wants to start holding outside events, like ice cream socials, when it’s safe to do so again. Long-term, the dad, admittedly a bit of a visionary, would like to realize his pretty ambitious goal of moving to another location, somewhere that could be seen as a family center, complete with a splash pad, swing sets, and maybe a couple monkeys. In his words, he wants a restaurant with a family experience.

In order to do that, the Stoltzfus Family is going to need the next generation’s support. All of their children are homeschooled, and the worries Levi and Arianna had about how the public might negatively perceive the children working in the restaurant have since disbanded. The parents’ think the patrons appreciate the way the kids contribute to the operation, which all of the Stoltzfus children—Suzanne, Katie, Levi Allen, Nathaniel, Rochelle, and Jessiah—do in different ways. Others outside the family help, too, including a few girls from church as well as a set of siblings who drive from out of state, stay the week, work, and return home. Still, Leannas is currently hiring. Anyone interested in applying should stop in and fill out an application.

“We never expected this kind of support, especially during a pandemic. We’ve been much busier than we expected. Our thought process in the beginning before we opened was, ‘We’ll see if this kicks off.’ It was unknown! Our thoughts have now become, ‘Okay, how do we control this?’ It has been absolutely amazing,” Levi said. “It sounds cliché, but our goal here is to make a positive difference in people’s lives. What’s interesting is the way people have affected our lives. We went on vacation and the kids were excited to come back! Yes, the food is important, but getting to connect with each other... That’s the good stuff. We’ve been blessed to be here, and we hope we’ve been a blessing to everyone else.”

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