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Caramel Crisp & Café Updates Its Old School Menu For the Modern Age

By Pamela Sosnowski

At a time when many mom-and-pop businesses seem to only last a few years the Caramel Crisp & Cafe continues to defy the odds after nearly 85 years in operation. A fixture in downtown Oshkosh since 1933, it got its start serving sweet caramel popcorn to moviegoers seeing now-classics such as Duck Soup and King Kong at the Oshkosh Theater next door on Main Street. Today the family-owned business has expanded and adapted to keep up with the taste buds of modern customers by serving a variety of freshly prepared salads, soups, sandwiches, beverages, and all-day breakfast items in addition to its sweet treats. Owner Chanda Anderson, who dreamed of opening up a cookie shop, took her mother's caramel corn recipe, built the eatery around a name inspired by the recipe and now operates it with her husband.

"My mother bought it in the 80's and ran it for about 20 years and then closed it for a number of reasons," she said. "In 2007, I was laid off and was growing tired of my chosen profession in occupational therapy and decided to look at opening a cookie shop. Once I started working on the business plan, I realized I needed to expand that idea. My mom had wanted me to take over Caramel Crisp for years and years. It wasn't a far stretch from my cookie idea, so I combined the two."

The cafe's current location in City Center makes it a popular stop for shoppers in need of some rest, refreshment, and a carry out meal option. Open daily, usually by 7 AM, the cafe's menu includes a selection of four to eight rotating salads, soups, sandwiches, beverages, baked goods, and more. Texas-style chili, pulled-pork sandwiches, and grilled cheese sandwiches. For those with a sweet tooth, the options are endless: pies, cakes, cookies, scones, muffins and several flavors of ice cream, and the restaurant still sells a variety of candy that continues to delight all ages, just as it did in the 1930s.

Even the flavored popcorn selection has been expanded for the 21st century. In addition to the original caramel crisp that it's named for the restaurant makes parmesan and garlic, spicy cheese, and even cake batter popcorn. Anderson says she gets a lot of menu inspiration from listening to her customers.

"I like to stay on top of trends, and, since our customers are friends, I like them to help me see what needs to be added or changed," she said. "I feel customers enjoy being heard and love to help to develop new things. It helps me to see other opinions and opens my mind to ideas I may have not thought of."

The cafe has tried to retain some of its old-fashioned feel through the years, providing a laid-back eatery to unwind, savor a cup of coffee, and chat with friends before perusing the gift shop and taking home some goodies. The restaurant is also mindful of parents by providing a kid-friendly dining area in the back of the cafe where children can play with toys and eat at their own table. Every Tuesday and Saturday morning at 10:30 AM the restaurant also hosts a story time hour, where younger children can enjoy a staff member reading them a new book. This rapport with the client base is no doubt a reason for the café's continued success.

"I look at everyone as family, [and] I try to get out and chat with our guests," Anderson said. "We are pretty laid back. We just hope everyone is comfortable."

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