Sunn Cafe brightens up lunchtime in Mount Horeb

Cindy Curtes and Tasha Peterson opened the lunch-focused spot in 2016.
bowl and sandwich on a table at Sunn Cafe
Photo by Sharon Vanorny
The Bomb sandwich and a Thai Chicken Sunn Bowl

Longtime Mount Horeb residents and partners Cindy Curtes and Tasha Peterson had zero restaurant experience before they decided to open Sunn Cafe in October 2016 in a former meat market.

Before that, the two would joke about opening a lunch spot, but it wasn’t until the right location on the corner of East and Main streets opened up that it became a reality. “We knew what the town had to offer in terms of dining and we knew what it was missing because we lived it,” Curtes says.

Both Peterson and Curtes say the space was a disaster after housing a meat market for 40 years, but they loved the location and realized it had potential. After six months of dedicated renovation work, during which they gutted the space, Sunn Cafe opened for lunch.

Sunn means “good for you” or “wholesome” in Norwegian, and the two women bring that idea into the cafe’s soups, salads and sandwiches. Though neither owner is a professional chef, Peterson says almost everything on the menu is made in-house.

The bestseller is the grilled cheese, which the duo sometimes calls the grilled cheese plus, as folks will come up with different add-on ingredients to the classic sammie. The Bomb, a combination of turkey, havarti cheese, pesto, greens, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and herbed oil, is another customer favorite.

Cindy Curtes (left) and Tasha Peterson (right)

Cindy Curtes (left) and Tasha Peterson (right) (Photo by Sharon Vanorny)

Curtes says they have also been able to create gluten-free and vegan options. The alternatives — including the lime cilantro quinoa salad and chickpea sunflower salad — have gotten a lot of positive feedback from those with (and without) serious gluten aversions.

The restaurant has always been an order-at-the-counter kind of business, Curtes says, but the pandemic further amplified the takeout element. Sunn was closed for a month and a half in spring 2020. After being fully closed, they switched to takeout only until reopening the indoor dining room in September for limited seating.

Sunn Cafe was selected by Dave Jones Inc. and Auer Steel to participate in a case study for SecureAire’s air purification system. The HVAC system installed at the cafe reportedly kills 99% of airborne contaminants.

“That actually really helped us to feel confident to let people dine in,” Curtes says. “It’s helped customers feel good — it’s a really good, state-of-the-art system.”

the Bomb sandwich

The Bomb (Photo by Sharon Vanorny)

Last summer they had a patio area in the front, and this year they’re expanding outdoor seating. Curtes says they worked with K&A Greenhouse and Premier Co-op for supplies to create a new alley patio behind the cafe.

Like many restaurants, Sunn Cafe has adapted and created new processes to keep things clean for customers. Peterson says one of the most interesting consequences of the pandemic has been interacting with a completely different clientele. Those who commuted to Mount Horeb and visited on lunch breaks prior to the onset of the pandemic may be working from home elsewhere, but locals who had worked all day in Madison can now enjoy lunch while working from home in Mount Horeb.

“We got to meet a lot of new people,” Peterson says, adding that some days it’s all new faces at the counter. “Now slowly we are seeing old faces coming back.”

Throughout this period, the women say the community has been incredible in helping keep their doors open. “They don’t want us to go away and we don’t want to go away,” Curtes says. “They’ve been super supportive.”

Thai Chicken Sunn Bowl

Thai Chicken Sunn Bowl (Photo by Sharon Vanorny)

While sales are not what they were pre-pandemic, Curtes says they have great plans for the coming months. Recently, they launched a smaller breakfast menu for the first time, and after a year of weekday-only business, Sunn Cafe is now open on Saturdays.

Find Sunn Cafe: 201 E. Main St., Mount Horeb, 437-7866, sunncafe.com

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.Footer that says Subscribe with covers of Madison Magazine