With the dedicated work of Mike and Shirley Liu, Cafe at Pharr opened its doors in the spring of 1993. Despite their best efforts, business was frustratingly slow. At the time, Mike focused on making and selling cakes, pastries, and other baked goods. However, after several months, Mike reconceptualized the cafe’s menu by getting rid of the decadent pastries and incorporating healthy sandwiches and salads.
Mike came up with the ingenious idea of creating a pastry roll filled with the most heavenly yogurt concoction, and the outcome was a dessert of perfection.
As more and more customers spread the word on the cafe’s delicious yet healthy chicken salad sandwiches (the walnut chicken salad continues to be our most popular), business slowly started to pick up. However, the cafe’s status as the go-to-place-for-lunch was all but solidified with the serendipitous creation of the yogurt roll. Not wanting to toss away the leftovers when making the croissant dough, Mike came up with the ingenious idea of creating a pastry roll filled with the most heavenly yogurt concoction, and the outcome was a dessert of perfection: the yogurt’s tartness is balanced by the buttery and lustrous croissant skin. Mike decided to include these adorable little rolls (2 per order) with every sandwich and salad order, and he honestly had no idea at the time just how many yogurt rolls he would make in his lifetime. By 1995, business was booming, with customers lining up for the freshly baked bread, all the various chicken salads, and — yes, oh, yes — the yogurt rolls.
The Cafe at Pharr began and continues to function as a Mom ‘n’ Pop shop, serving hundreds of healthy Atlantans daily. For over a decade, Mike headed the kitchen, Shirley took care of the front end of the business, and customers constantly saw their children, Johnny and Jenny, lurking in the back, stuffing their faces with yogurt rolls and doing their best to help out, which usually meant staying out of the way. As they grew older, Johnny learned the ins and outs of baking bread and perfecting chicken salad recipes, as Jenny waitressed and bussed tables in the front.
Today, Cafe at Pharr is run by Mike and Shirley’s son Johnny, who has opened multiple locations around metro Atlanta and hopes to open more in the future. Jenny has since left Atlanta to pursue her doctorate in art history. Mike and Shirley have retired but still can be seen from time to time checking in on their son Johnny, at there flagship store on Pharr Road, making sure the Chicken Salad is always prepared like Mom ‘n’ Pop used to make it.