More than Occasionally Yours
Thirty years ago this month, Scott and Theresa Richardson were ready to open a catering business. “We looked at West Chester and Media, but we thought there was more of a need for food in Swarthmore,” Theresa said, “that the college could be a catering client and students would come down to find a place to get takeout.”
“We walked around the town and met up in front of 8 Park Avenue, which had a For Rent sign in the window. And we made the phone call to Bill Willis, who owned the building, and a couple of days later we came back to sign the lease. It was April Fool’s Day of 1989. We asked each other ‘are we sure we want to do this?’ and the answer was yes,” Scott said in a recent interview at 8 Park Avenue, for nearly 30 years the home of their restaurant and catering business Occasionally Yours.
A month of DIY work later — with help from a lot of friends who knew trades they didn’t — the Richardsons thought they were ready to open. They weren’t. A new Swarthmore fire marshal decided the kitchen needed a range hood, and so began several more months of engineering and installation. By the time the store opened finally opened on August 1, after four months of rent payments with no income, “We were almost out of business before we started,” Scott recalled. “It took nearly everything we had to buy the equipment and get the building ready.”
And it turned out that August was not a great time to open a restaurant in Swarthmore. “Everyone’s gone! Our first day, we did $68 in sales,” Scott said. “But when September came, there was some buzz, the people came back, and we were ready for them,” Theresa recalled. Scott did kitchen work in the morning, moonlighting as a store manager to maintain income for a year or two while the business got off the ground.
Four months into a two year lease, landlord Bill Willis told the Richardsons he wanted to sell the building — scary news that turned into great opportunity. Bankers “looked at us like we were insane, “Theresa said, but they were able to create a lease-purchase agreement with Willis that included a down payment and extra payments toward purchase pf the building (along with rent) for five years. Well before the end of that term, Scott and Theresa were able to pay off loans from relatives and get a mortgage, giving them ownership of the restaurant property even sooner than they had dared to hope.
What Swarthmore Provided
The couple moved from a condo in Brookhaven to an apartment above Occasionally Yours when they were expecting twins in 1994 Those twins, Megan and Taylor turned three in the apartment. Other young couples with children at that time made the town center a great neighborhood, they said, but the family wanted greener pastures and moved to Rutgers Avenue, where the four of them live now.
The Richardsons are grateful for what Swarthmore has given them, Scott said, “The ability to live in this great town for the last 30 years, put our children through good schools, and live a comfortable life, even if we are never going to be millionaires.”
Many Swarthmore’s senior citizens are extremely loyal customers, Theresa said, “They get the small business model and how important it is to a town. But we are also seeing a shift to more young couples who come in with their children, and that has become a focus. And often the parents are children and grandchildren of the customers we had when we first opened.”
She added, “In the past few years we are getting a lot of [Swarthmore College] students. The game changers in our business have been the Inn and the One Card. Those are bringing the students off campus and down to the town, and that’s huge. They discover a world down here that they were missing. They are why we opened on Sunday, and they are coming in all day long, in groups or when their parents come to visit.”
Weekends are almost too busy at the restaurant; though weekday lunchtime can be slow; and the catering business is really good, Theresa said, with steady business from the college and other institutions augmenting the family “occasions” that are Occasionally Yours’s bread and butter. The catering menu is not super-fancy, Theresa said, “but everything is made from scratch and from our recipe. The key is consistency.”
Besides their shared knack for creating food that people love, the couple has complementary skills – Scott’s for sales, Theresa’s for organization. Even in the close quarters of the Occasionally Yours kitchen, they get along, spelling each other at 8 Park Avenue throughout the 12 hours. It’s rare that one or the other is not on site, which they feel is crucial to maintaining quality and reputation. Scott said, “You are committing to a tremendous number of hours, but it’s a passion. I don’t think either of us looks at it as going to work.”
What’s next for the couple as they take stock of the business where they’ve spent half their lives? “We are so invigorated to be in our 30th year, it’s like starting over again,” Scott said. “We have some ideas for a little facelift; maybe there will be changes after our summer vacation when we open up in September. And we’ll have an anniversary celebration then.” They are not ready to retire, Theresa said, “but we are certainly not 30 years away!”