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Business Spotlight: On an Artistic Ride

Village Pottery Cafe has evolved with opportunities while uniquely offering an artistic experience in Republic

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Sonya Rippy’s dream was to run a gift shop featuring local artists. She didn’t know it would transition into a pottery-painting cafe that would become a long running business in the city of Republic.

“It has been quite the almost 15-year ride,” she says. “One I know has made a difference in our community. Our main mission has always been making family memories that last a lifetime.” 

When Rippy and her husband, Jim, moved to the Springfield area in 2007, she opened a shop in Galloway Village called Village Gifts.

They wanted to offer a more creative art experience for the public, but after realizing the Springfield site had “limited use” zoning in the city, they started working through a rezoning process. While the zoning was changed, a new opportunity was presented to Rippy.

“A representative from the city of Republic got in touch with me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of their bubble entrepreneur program,” she recalls.

Rippy was offered a rental agreement for a 900-square-foot space for $150 a month, which would increase by $25 a year over three years, as part of an effort to build up more business in Republic.

“The only hitch was that the building was behind the main city offices of the city of Republic, and they asked me if I could do a small kitchen that would serve city employees muffins and breakfast items,” she says.

Rippy took the offer in 2009, opening the Village Pottery Cafe on Main Street. After about six-months of running both the gift shop and the cafe in Republic, she decided to close the shop and devote her time to the cafe.

The menu started with prepackaged breakfast items for city employees, but Rippy said she quickly added homemade quiches and soups. Then came breads, sandwiches, cinnamon rolls and apple dip. Customers who wanted to paint pottery could come in and have food at the same time. Families and individuals started to go for something fun and creative to do, says Heather Priebe, a Republic resident.

Priebe says she’s gone with her family to the cafe since it opened, and she can’t even count how many pottery pieces she owns anymore. Priebe says the cafe hosts event nights, including those to benefit the community. One such event was for her family, after husband Mark sustained a spinal injury in mid-2020 in the line of duty for the Springfield Police Department.

“It was a ladies’ night for charcuterie board making,” she says. “We had a slab of clay and decorated them all in a unique way, they dried and fired them, and then you could go back to paint it. It was a great opportunity to be there with those who love us.”

The big move
Although it was a small space, the cafe operated in the city building until 2016, when Rippy says the city planned to renovate and she had 30 days to find a new location. That’s when she struck a deal with Jim Viebrock, a real estate agent and previous member of the Missouri House of Representative. Viebrock owns the cafe’s 3,000-square-foot building on Walnut Avenue, which is 101 years old.

Lots of renovations needed to be made before the cafe could open there with a full kitchen, Viebrock says.

“A building built in 1920, isn’t up to modern codes, and restaurants are very power-hungry with all of the equipment with stoves, refrigerators and all of that. We had to do some remodeling to accommodate the kitchen in particular,” Viebrock says, declining to disclose lease terms. “She had local artisans come in and do the total decoration. A lot of the tables and chairs were either donated to her or made. She had local painters come in and design them, each one is different. Then they have murals on the wall. The flair that the building has is a culmination of a lot of different local talent.”

Through the pandemic
Village Pottery Cafe had its share of difficult times when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Because it had a kitchen, it was deemed an essential business.

Rippy says she started offering a curbside service comfort menu geared toward people working from home or in virtual school. The cafe also offers to-go pottery kits.

However, revenue was cut in half. Rippy says it was a trying time and that she had to lay off 11 of her long-term employees. Declining to disclose current revenues, Rippy says the business has peaked at about $300,000 a year.

Rippy says the Paycheck Protection Program loan she received for $26,150, which has been fully forgiven, helped the cafe recover and enabled her to rehire eight of the 11 employees.

During this time, Rippy decided to repurpose a room in the back which had previously been used for large groups into a pottery wheel throwing studio.

“We took a really big chance,” she says. “It was an art form and craft that Republic did not have. Some thought I was crazy for changing that in the middle of COVID and investing in a new idea.”

It ended up being a turning point for the cafe to return to its artistic roots.

“We now have six pottery wheels in the room and we teach classes for children, adults and families,” she says. “We offer date nights, ladies’ pottery wheel nights, kids’ nights out, Saturday morning kids pottery wheel and clay hand building classes.”

As more challenges came with staffing and price increases, Rippy decided the cafe was stretched too thin.

In mid-2022, Rippy closed the full-time kitchen during the regular weekday.

“We have scaled it back to our beginnings,” she says. “We feel we have more time to spend with our customers on techniques, ideas and pottery painting in a more relaxed atmosphere than the hustle and bustle of attempting to do that during a busy lunch or dinner service.”

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