New Blue Lake Cafe owners feel right at home

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sisters, and co-owners of the Blue Lake Café, Shelly Orso, left, and Jami Bowden have big plans for their new restaurant.

Sisters, and co-owners of the Blue Lake Café, Shelly Orso, left, and Jami Bowden have big plans for their new restaurant.

Sisters Jami Bowden and Shelly Orso are new to the Andalusia area, but they are not new to the restaurant business – and they are using their skills to settle into the community as the new owners of Blue Lake Café.

“We opened on Nov. 1,” Bowden said. “We’ve always wanted to have a restaurant, and this was perfect.”

Bowden and Orso, who moved to the Blue Lake community from Fairhope and Pensacola, Fla., respectively, said they brought more than just their restaurant experience with them – they also brought their families and a love for life in rural Alabama.

“Over the past two years, we’ve been looking for property, kind of just in the middle of nowhere,” Bowden said. “I have a son and a daughter, and Shelly has a son. Shelly cooks here, and I wait tables and take care of the customers. We’re a really close family.”

That close family includes the sisters’ parents, who routinely visit from Gulf Shores and help with the restaurant. But, while the family is new to the area, they said the Blue Lake Café is a staple.

“It’s changed hands several times,” Bowden said of the restaurant. “I was kind of apprehensive, because it had been open and shut so many times.”

But, Bowden and Orso say that is a trend they intend to end.

“We just love it here,” they said. “Mainly, it’s locals that come in. The hunters have been great, and the community has been great. (Business has) been pretty steady.”

With only a few months under their belts at Blue Lake, both Bowden and Orso said they have big plans for the future, and their current residence is a testament to their dedication.

“We’re living right out back,” Orso said. “We’re still looking for land, but we found this and wanted to get started.”

Right now, the sisters are offering made-from-scratch menu items six-days-a-week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And while their menu is varied, offering everything from hamburgers to catfish, Bowden and Orso said the same care goes into every meal.

“It’s all cooked to order,” Bowden said. “It’s not pre-made, which means it takes a little longer. But it’s made-from-scratch. We have a lot to give the customers. So far, everyone has said it’s the best food – that’s what we’re striving for.”

And, so far, Bowden said the response has been favorable.

“We see the same faces two or three times a day,” she said. “That’s how you know you’re doing alright.”

While the restaurant end of their business seems to be taking off, the sisters said they plan to make new additions in order to fulfill the offer the sign they inherited at Blue Lake Café Hunting Fishing Camping Supplies advertises.

“We eventually want to get a new sign, but just to give it a facelift,” Bowden said. “We have a lounge area now, where people can drink coffee. We have wi-fi. We have eight RV spots we rent out to campers and hunters. We have a bathhouse and a washer and dryer. Eventually though, we will have bait and tackle, ammo, and camping supplies, and we plan to have all of that stocked up by next hunting season.”

For now, Bowden and Orso said they will continue to offer hand-made food and a place for travelers to spend their nights. They also hope to become a staple of the community themselves.

“We love this community,” Bowden said. “There’s history here. There are hunters that have been coming here for 20 years. There’s a lot we want to do, and everyone has been really supportive.”

Blue Lake Café is located on Alabama Hwy. 137. It is open Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. For more information, call 334.222.1190.