In the kitchen with … Mandy Benton

In the kitchen with … Mandy Benton

Uptown Market & Cafe big draw in Putnam County

By Michelle Stein

Owner Mandy Benton and her daughter Ellie, 4, sit on a bench outside Uptown Market & Cafe in downtown Leipsic.

When Mandy Benton realized there was no longer a place in Leipsic to buy fresh food, she decided to do something about it. Together with her partner, Brian Osterfeld, she bought a downtown building on the corner of state routes 65 and 613.

Uptown Market & Cafe was born.

Although the “market” aspect of the business has taken a different direction since opening its doors in December 2015, the original philosophy remains: It’s a place where people can enjoy wholesome food — sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, baked goods, coffee and more — all made with fresh and often locally sourced ingredients.

“Leipsic had no fresh food whatsoever before we opened,” Benton said. “There was no grocery store where you could by produce or meat, or anything like that. We have a Dollar General, and that’s all. We lost our grocery store a couple of years ago, unfortunately, and everybody has really missed it terribly.”

The 2003 Leipsic High School alumna said the community had watched many downtown buildings end up demolished or out of business.

“It was really kind of a tumultuous time in town as far as, everybody’s panicking, we’re seeing all of these businesses go away,” she said. “And there’s this resource that’s missing. So I thought maybe this is the time people are ready to support a local grocery store again. So we originally opened to be a fresh food market.”

The business began offering produce, Amish meats and cheeses, breads, bakery items and coffee. It was soon apparent, however, that this market-centric business model wasn’t a good fit.

“About a month and a half after opening, we were just not selling produce,” Benton said. “I mean the deli was going pretty well. We have over 50 varieties of Amish meat and cheese at our deli, that still goes pretty well — but the produce was mostly just turning and getting tossed. And so, we kind of evolved into a restaurant out of necessity because we were throwing out all of this product. So that’s kind of where the restaurant was born.”

Now — a year and a half after first opening its doors — Uptown Market & Cafe serves up a wide variety of meat and cheese sandwiches — including breakfast options — wraps and soups, bakery items, coffee and more. Evidence of its grocery store beginnings is apparent in Uptown Market & Cafe’s menu, which features a variety of homemade options created with fresh ingredients. Among the options are breakfast offerings like bagel sandwiches, sandwiches like the smoked Italian and chicken bacon ranch club, wraps like a Caesar or Greek lunch, and salads like Mandy’s mandarin salad. There is a children’s menu as well. And don’t skip dessert.

The cafe is known pretty well for its salads, Benton said. The chef salad is the No. 1 seller, which includes a few varieties of lettuce and is topped with diced turkey, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, cheese, cucumbers and dressing on the side.

“We have the freshest ingredients in our salads and they’re huge — they’re meant to be a real meal,” she said. “My big complaint when I go somewhere for a salad is either the ingredients aren’t fresh enough, or it’s not substantial enough to make me feel like I’m not depriving myself. So when you get a salad here, it’s ginormous. It’s stuffed full of boiled eggs and meat and cheese and all kinds of veggies. They’re beautiful.”

Expanding upon its breakfast and lunch success, Uptown Market & Café began offering evening hours this spring, along with a special evening menu.

“Our No. 1 food item in the evening that everybody’s talking about is we do a giant plate of nachos that are covered in fresh chorizo, fresh avocado and different kinds of cheeses and tomatoes,” Benton said.” We make several different salsas in-house as well, so our homemade corn salsa goes on that as well. These nachos are amazing.”

Something else relatively new to the menu is alcohol, as a result of the cafe obtaining a liquor license this spring.

“My favorite drink right now is called a paloma — we make a paloma here,” she said. “And it’s made with tequila and then it’s got Jarritos soda on top, which all of the kids here grew up drinking. … Leipsic is a pretty big Hispanic town, so we also try to incorporate Mexican ingredients as much as we can,” she said. “We use fresh chorizo in a lot of things. Even just on our alcohol menu, we carry different Mexican beers.”

And of course, there’s the coffee side of the business, which Benton said has gone over even better than she had imagined.

“When we first opened, I thought we would be serving mostly drip coffee because there are no fancy coffee places in Putnam County,” she said. “So I just assumed that people would need to be eased into the world of espresso drinks. And I was so wrong. For the most part, people just want caramel macchiatos and white chocolate caramel mochas.”

Uptown Market & Café offers “the fanciest of fancy coffee drinks,” Benton said, including frozen and espresso drinks. “We use premium syrups, and you can get anything from just an americano — which is two shots of espresso and hot water — or you can get a white chocolate caramel mocha drizzled with caramel sauce.”

Fun fact: All espresso and coffee served at Uptown Market & Café is roasted locally by Coffé Amor in Wapakoneta.

“He’s been making custom blends for us,” Benton said. “Our house coffee is called the Viking Blend. It’s a custom blend that you can only get here. You can buy it by the bag, or you can get it by the cup. And we have a program that we set up here where every bag we sell of beans, like a dollar of that is donated into a scholarship fund that we’re going to give away to a high school senior, as soon as that fund reaches $250.”

One other surprise about the cafe is the customers, many whom travel from outside the county to enjoy the food, drinks and atmosphere and friends.

“We thought we would just serve Leipsic, you know, and that’s not the case at all,” Benton said. “We have people who come from Lima once a week and they make dates with their girlfriend. We’ve become more of a destination. So that’s cool and that’s fun.”

Uptown Market & Cafe

200 E. Main St., Leipsic

7 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sundays.

Takeout, delivery and catering options are also available by calling 419-860-5180. Check out Uptown Market & Café’s Facebook page to keep up with special offers and events, and to peruse the full menu.

Salt Magazine