By: Nick Perkins
“Home is where the heart is. But my heart is here. So I must be home.”
- The Time Traveler’s Wife
Really, did she ever even have a choice?
Sherrie Lopez, owner of Sherrie’s Place Restaurant, was born into this business. Her mother and step-father had opened a slew of restaurants in Casper, back when 2nd Street was the only drag in town and Sherrie was barely tall enough to see over the stove. In fact, from 1976 to 1981, her parents actually owned the very same restaurant that would eventually be Sherrie’s Place. Back then, it was called the Coffee Cup Café and it consisted of one counter top and six booths.
After that, Sherrie’s parents ventured to Kansas for a time, before returning home to Casper and opening another slew of restaurants, including the Paradise Valley Café, an airport eatery and a restaurant whose name should elicit a smile from Casper’s old-timers- the Kopper Kettle. Encouraging patrons to “fill your belly and wet your whistle,” the Kopper Kettle was an institution on the outskirts of Casper and was repeatedly said to have had “the best breakfast in town.” During that time, Sherrie, herself, was managing the airport restaurant and then went on to work for various “corporations” for a time, before she was called back “home.”
After Sherrie’s parents sold the Coffee Cup Café, various owners tried to make it their own, to no avail. Finally, in 1997, Sherrie bought the restaurant and it has been Sherrie’s Place ever since.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Sherrie confessed. “It’s what I’m good at. It’s in my family, in my blood.”
It has taken a lot of blood, sweat, tears and bacon grease to maintain Sherrie’s Place for the past twenty years. Sherrie said she has replaced everything in the restaurant “at least three times” over the course of the years. This makes sense, as the building itself is 100 years old. But Sherrie has no plans of renovating or relocating.
“I look at this, and I look at what I’ve done, and the building itself- I think part of the business itself is the ambience of the building and I’m not ready to get rid of that,” Sherrie stated. “The ambience of the building, the character of the building- she knows I take care of her. Did you know she’s 100 years old? She was built in 1917.”
Things were vastly different a hundred years ago for the Old Yellowstone District. There were rumors of brothels and bootleg liquor, with more lynching than lunching. But it’s the notorious history of the location that has partially contributed to its renaissance the past few years. The community is embracing the history of Downtown Casper and the stories that it has to tell. The story of Sherrie’s Place is just one of them.
When asked what it takes to open and maintain a restaurant for 20+ years, Sherrie said that it takes “experience and dedication.”
Sherrie continued, stating that “You can’t open a business and have a manager run it; you have to stay with your business. I’ve been offered franchises, but I don’t want to do that, because there’s only one of me.”
Truer words have never been spoken. There is absolutely only one Sherrie, and she has become as much of a fixture of The District as the restaurant itself. Known as much for her sass as her hash (browns), Sherrie is like the doting aunt who will always take you in but will be sure to give you a stiff kick in the rear when needed. It is this recipe of two-part angel, one-part devil that has ingratiated Sherrie to her staff, some of whom have been with her from the very beginning.
“My server has been with me almost 19 years,” Sherrie boasted. “My mom has been here since I opened. My other server has been with me since I opened and most of my other employees have been here at least 6 or 7 years. I’ve been very lucky.”
Yes, one of Sherrie’s employees is her mother. Tasked with rolling silverware, baking specialty pies and preparing the homemade dinner rolls, Sherrie’s mom works for 8 hours or more every day, just like the other employees. She is 85 years old.
It is not just Sherrie’s mother that is loyal to her, though. All of her employees would go into battle for Sherrie, fork and knife in tow. This is because Sherrie is loyal to them.
The key to that loyalty, according to Sherrie, is “about making them feel important and caring about their lives outside of the place.”
“With so many corporations, you’re a number on a paycheck and your productivity is all they care about,” she continued. “I think they would get more productivity if they had a little more compassion and if they cared about their employees and what their lives’ involve.”
Sherrie cares about her employees. She also cares about her customers and her community, noting that it is her customers that keep her coming back, day after day.
I thank [my customers] for supporting me,” Sherrie said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here. I really feel strongly about that. I love my customers. 9 times out of 10, I can tell you who my customers are and what they’re going to eat. I know if they’re having health problems, or who’s getting married, or who’s grandbaby that is. It’s a community thing in here.”
This is not the same community that existed 20 years ago, when Sherrie took her place. It has grown exponentially, especially in recent years, and she couldn’t be happier about that.
“When I first [opened this restaurant], I never imagined this to happen,” she stated. “I am so glad for the improvements. I have such good neighbors. I know all the restaurant owners and we all kind of reciprocate. We scratch each other’s back and if I know I’m full, they get [my customers] and if they’re full, I get theirs. It’s helpful to everybody. We have to be a team to keep the area open. I want to be good neighbors.”
As the veteran of The District, it is the other businesses that should feel obligated to be good neighbors to Sherrie’s Place, because she is unlikely to budge. When asked where she wants to see her place go from here, Sherrie stated that she “wants it to stay the same. I think that’s what makes it, the simplicity of it. It’s home cooking. I don’t put parsley on the plates. I keep everything very simple. You get a lot of food for the money and it’s not a generic thing; it’s something different. It’s real.”
Sherrie cuts all of her potatoes for French fries. She breads each chicken fried steak individually and cooks them to order. Her mother bakes bread and pies every day. It is real home cooking, and anything else is simply unacceptable. She is only open until 2pm, she only serves breakfast and lunch, and she is not, absolutely not, open on weekends, regardless of the potential profits.
“I had somebody call me recently who wanted to do some sort of promotion online, and I didn’t really understand it,” Sherrie stated. “I told him ‘I don’t do any of that,’ and he said ‘Well, Mother’s Day is coming up and you’re going to need the business.’”
“I said ‘I’m not open on Mother’s Day.’”
And that’s just how it is, that’s all. Sherrie does things her way because it works. She relies on word of mouth for her advertising and it hasn’t let her down yet.
“That’s another thing,” Sherrie started. “I don’t do Google. I don’t do Facebook. I don’t do Wi-Fi. I don’t check comments. I don’t look at Yelp. I let people tell me.”
When the people speak, she listens and adjusts accordingly. She may not budge on some things, but she is always willing to compromise on certain aspects.
Compromise, she said, is also the key to her marriage. Coincidentally, or not, if you believe in fate, Sherrie met her husband of 36 years inside the walls of her restaurant.
“When my parents owned this from ’76-’81, I actually met my husband in here,” Sherrie reminisced with a slight smile. “I was living across the street in the apartments, and he got an apartment there too. We were introduced by a mutual friend and it’s just so funny that we met in here and we still have the business.”
Funny, yes. But not unbelievable. Because for Sherrie, this place was always hers. It was her past and her present and it is her future. She has raised children within the walls of this restaurant. It was her children who named the restaurant “Sherrie’s Place,” because they knew that this place was just as much her home as their actual residence. Sherrie knows this, too.
“This is my house,” Sherrie said. “I love this place. There’s a lot of warmth in here, a lot of years.”
Did Sherrie ever really have a choice about where her life would lead? Yes, she did. Sherrie Lopez is an intelligent, passionate, compassionate woman and she could have done anything she wanted to do. But she chose to open her home and her heart to the community. In exchange for that, she was given a husband, 3 children and 4 grandchildren. She created a family that extends much further than the walls of her restaurant. If home is where the heart is, then this entire community is Sherrie’s Place. So really, the question becomes: did we ever really have a choice?
Sherrie’s Place Restaurant is open Monday-Friday, 6:30 AM- 2:00 PM.
It is located at 314 W. Yellowstone Hwy and their phone number is 307-235-3513.