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Café 529: A destination for food and coffee

The Wausau eatery is owned by local dentist Tammy Bailey

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February 5, 2024

WAUSAU – It’s not every day that your local dentist also owns a local café featuring sweet treats (and more).

But that’s exactly the scenario for Tammy Bailey, owner of Café 529.

The café, situated at 529 N. 3rd St., has had a long-standing presence as an eatery in downtown Wausau.

Prior to Bailey acquiring the property in August 2022, the spot housed La Prima deli for nearly a decade. 

An unlikely path

Unlike other entrepreneurial undertakings, this one wasn’t always on Bailey’s bucket list.

In fact, Bailey – a dentist at Quirt Family Dentistry – said it was her son’s interest in the culinary world that led her to purchase the former deli and transform it into Café 529. 

“Running businesses is often the same,” she said. “We all have products or services, payroll, taxes, marketing, computers, etc. And I had a lot of business experience with my (dental) practice.”

Bailey said her son left the business in July 2023, but credits Assistant Manager Emily Narlock for continuing to wrangle the day-to-day business.

That said, Bailey said she is busy with the heart of the business’ operations, including ordering, billing, marketing – including social media and the website – and product design. 

In the beginning, Bailey said she would typically spend the weekends at the café to do a significant amount of the bookkeeping.

Nowadays, she said she’s reduced that and focuses more on revamping the website and working in the café on special occasions, such as Arts Weekend.

“I do love coffee and cooking and catering, but I can’t do as much, so it’s been great to have an awesome assistant manager,” she said.

That, she said, is in addition to two additional full-time employees and three part-time employees.

A transformation

Bailey said she took a business that was Italian-focused and transitioned it into the coffee shop it is today.

She said she was, however, able to retain the former deli’s bread recipe, sauce recipes, salad dressing recipes and some sandwich recipes customers enjoyed.

To compliment those staples, Bailey said she added fresh bakery, as well as a variety of soup and sandwich items.

“We try new things out for a month, and if it’s a hit, we add it to the menu,” she said.

Bailey said Café 529 also added LOTUS Plant Energy drinks, a variety of coffee concoctions and her scone recipe to the mix.

In addition to the menu offerings, Bailey said she set out to modify the café’s vibe to make it a comfortable destination with high counters at the window with plug-ins for laptops, where people could grab a coffee and get a little work done.

She said she also wants Café 529 to be a go-to for moms with kids to pop in for treats (including kid-friendly and gluten-friendly treats).

“I’ve worked hard to make sure we appeal to everyone,” she said.

Part of that, Bailey said, has been done through the slow transformation of the café’s appearance.

The 100-year-old building in which the café is housed is on the corner of the main streets, which she said is an advantageous location.

Though much work has already been done, Bailey said she has visions of evolving the Italian vibe even more – transforming it into a more streamlined and modern atmosphere that honors the exposed brick, hardwood floors and big windows of the historic building.

“I want to update it without losing the character,” she said.

Broadening its customer base

Extending its offerings even further, Bailey said last fall, Café 529 began hosting baby showers, bridal showers and small meetings.

“There isn’t anything like that downtown,” she said. “The library has space but you can’t have food there, and I’m okay with someone hanging balloons or signs when they’re using our space.”

Bailey said the shop also began hosting seasonal, evening classes to increase traffic into the store – from cake pop decorating for parents and kids to breadmaking. 

“I’ve found many of the classes like that are during the day, and I know I haven’t (been able to) take advantage of those because I work then,” she said. 

Bailey said she has also been intentional about broadening business lunch catering to complement the in-café business and general catering business.

She said her goal is for a 50/50 split between the two types of business coming in the door.

“We have our regulars who love coming in for coffee or baked goods, and many people come in for the sandwiches made on fresh bread,” she said.

Bailey said in the beginning months, when she was serving as the café’s main cook, doing all the baking and cooking, she had to rein in offering a “grab and go” area of prepared meals.

Now that she can rely on the café’s trained chefs to assist, Bailey said those offerings are ramping back up.

Some of those options, she said, include charcuterie boxes that align with the holidays. 

For example, during Halloween, she said she used little coffin-shaped boxes to house a traditional charcuterie board’s offerings – and successfully plugged them on social media.

Bailey said her goal in opening during special weekend events, offering classes and expanding prepared meals is to appeal to a broader audience. 

“We’re fortunate we have the people in the downtown area, and the parking in front is convenient and easy,” she said. “Participating in events, showcasing things on social media is to get some people to come to us who haven’t been here yet.”

Bailey said she has also invested in a new point-of-sale system for the shop and is working on adding the ability to obtain a catering estimate and make a catering deposit via the website. That, she said, will also provide the option of online order for pickup.

Bailey said she has also connected with online groups for recipe ideas for the LOTUS Energy drinks, coffee offerings and to enhance her baking recipe box.

“My first job was making biscuits and working the drive-thru at Hardee’s, and I respect it as it’s tough work,” she said. “But the people here care about the work they do. It’s not just a job for them.”

Café 529 is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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