Pictured (from left) are Sunshine Cafe owners Walt, Hazel and Victor Pulliam and Wendy Pulliam Czerkie.
Local eatery to close after nearly four decades


Something magical happens when you walk into Sunshine’s Cafe — suddenly, your day seems a little brighter.

Maybe it’s the hugs and shouted greetings courtesy of Hazel Pulliam. Or your “usual,” cooked just the way you like it by her son, Victor. It could be the delivery with a smile from Hazel’s husband Walt, or the friendly table service from her daughter, Wendy Czerkie.

Whatever it is, the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out) have showed up every Friday for years to get their fix. The Sunshine’s Gang, a close-knit circle of friends, have gathered each week for food and fellowship. Chuck Fox and a table of his friends — or rascals, as Hazel affectionately calls them — have handed out candy at Christmas and Chuck has serenaded each customer celebrating a birthday. People have made love matches, a not-so-famous man named James Taylor has played the harmonica and a pig by the name of Kevin Bacon has regularly tempted fate by showing up in the side yard.

For 38 years, the family-owned restaurant has been serving regulars and newcomers alike for breakfast and lunch. But, in the poetic words of Wendy, “the sun is setting at Sunshine’s.”

The family decided before Thanksgiving that Sunshine’s would be closing December 23, and Walt, Hazel, Wendy and Victor will be moving to a new chapter in life — retirement from the restaurant business.

Long-time customers have taken the news hard, Hazel said. “They’ve cried. One lady cried three times over breakfast. They’ve congratulated us …but they’re also wondering where they’re going to eat. They’re asking, ‘Where are we going to get our pintos and our sweet tea?’ ”

But Hazel —who was nicknamed “Sunshine” by a customer back when she worked at Kat’s Patch in Troutman because of her light hair color — said she’s 76 and Walt is 80, and it’s well past time to retire from the restaurant they opened in May of 1985.

“So many of our customers are seniors, and I’m older than them, and I’m in the kitchen cooking,” she said.

“Sunshine is tired,” Wendy explained. “It’s the right time.”

The decision, however, is bittersweet because of the incredible bonds they’ve formed with both their staff and customers, Victor said.

“We’ve always had a close relationship with our employees; they’re like family,” he said. “And we’ve got some of the most wonderful customers. We love them.”

Long-time employee Shirley Childs plans to take early retirement after Sunshine’s Cafe closes. 

Employee Shirley Childs has been with Sunshine’s for over 18 years, and said while she’s happy for the family, whom she loves, she’s also sad that something special is ending.

“I love this place. They’re like my brother and sisters, and I’ve been with them 18 years. It’s home,” she said. “I’d made up my mind this was the last place I’d work, and so now I’m taking an early retirement.”

There have been difficult days when working with your closest family proved challenging but ultimately rewarding, Hazel said. “We’re a family, working together and fussing together and still making it work.”

“She’d say she’s leaving, and walk back in three seconds later,” Wendy said of her mother with a laugh.

What has meant the most, Hazel said, is creating a family environment where people feel welcome.

“They know they’re family as soon as they walk in the door,” she said. “I’ll look out from the kitchen and see people saying a prayer, holding hands … It makes you feel good that they feel comfortable doing that.”

Sunshine’s Cafe is currently for sale, and Hazel, Wendy, Walt and Victor will be officially closing the doors on December 23. Up next is a well-deserved break for the entire family after serving up good food and a little sunshine daily for the past four decades.

“We want to thank our customers, employees and the community for their support … we love you all,” Wendy said.

Iredell Free News


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15 thoughts on “Sun setting at Sunshine’s Cafe after 38 years

  1. I and my friends sure will miss Sunshine’s and the wonderful people who staff it. Having a meal here is so reminiscent of eating in “my mama’s and/or my grandma’s kitchen.” Praying for the best and happiest retirement for you all. May God be with and bless each of you.

  2. Wonderful and beautiful family. I will miss it so much. Thank you for 38 years of wonderful service to our community and all the memories made. May God bless your next chapter. Pastor James Lewis.

  3. Phil and Cindy Reagan says:

    My husband, and I have only been coming for a year now, but it feels like a life time. We come for breakfast with our friends Larry and Sandy Huggins. We hate to see it close, but fully understand you need to start enjoying life. We wish you the very best in your new adventure! God Bless You!

  4. Trevla Pulliam says:

    Bittersweet is a perfect word. So many good memories and delicious meals shared around Sunshine’s tables. As part of the Sunshine family, I know how hard those early mornings have been on everyone. Their dedication to a clean restaurant, good food and great service has proven successful year after year. I’m happy that Walt and Hazel are going to finally get to sleep late!! Wishing everyone love, happiness and rest ❤️

  5. Forever thankful for the past five years with y’all. There will never be another place like Sunshine’s Cafe!

  6. Sharon Setzer says:

    Your upcoming rest is well deserved, but I sure hate to see Sunshine’s go. Many happy memories eating there — with staff members, friends, grandkids and many family members. We all loved Sunshine’s! Michael and I shared our last meal together at Sunshine’s 17 years ago. Will always be special in my heart.

  7. Your friends at Tharpe will miss you and your deliveries tremendously!! We are also happy for the new adventures to come for your family. Best of life to you all! 😀

  8. After six and a half years working in the kitchen at Sunshine’s, it will always be my favorite place to work. It’s home.

  9. Awesome food. It hurts to see a great landmark as this closing. Those biscuits would just melt in your mouth. You guys will surely be missed. Enjoy your retirement.

  10. Susan Davidson says:

    When I first heard the news I was speechless. We’ve always enjoyed coming to Sunshines! The food was great, the staff friendly, the conversations were enjoyable and you felt like you were home. I know how I felt when I retired so I know it’s time for them to retire, rest and enjoy their time together! So Thanks for the great food, fellowship, and memories from Sunshines!! May God bless you with happy, happy days ahead. The Davidsons

  11. Barbara E. Martin says:

    As CEO of the Sunshine Gang, we are excited about your news that you are retiring. And we are in a turmoil, because not every place can accommodate 10 to 16 best friends. We have enjoyed the comfort of your food and the entertainment of both the staff and the customers. You will surely be missed. We have made great friendships enjoying your food. Best of luck! – “The Sunshine Gang”

  12. Chelsea, we haven’t been there in a while because Bernie has been sick from his chemo. We will miss you so much. YOU are the BEST server we’ve ever had. Following you and the birth of your second son and seeing the pictures of your boys and your smiling face every time we came in, always made for a good day. Loved that you always knew our order before you even came to the table. Hope you kept the little notes we left on the table for you. Hopefully we will see you again in the next chapter of your story. God bless you and ALL at the cafe. We will miss you.

  13. Congratulations! I’m so happy for all of you! Your smiling faces and yummy meals will be greatly missed!😊😋

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