The Gathering Cafe continues thriving amid pandemic

Sarah Partee, owner of The Gathering Café & Bakery, carries an order of everything avocado toast to a table on Tuesday. The restaurant opened on Feb. 1, 2020, one month before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Sarah Partee opened The Gathering Room Cafe & Bakery last February, about a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

While other businesses closed, however, Partee has continued to survive.

The cafe occupies the circular building at the corner of 2601 SW 19th Ave. Rd. Originally a frozen custard shop, the site has gone through a series of businesses. The cafe serves breakfast, lunch and a selection of baked goods. They also specialize in espresso-based drinks.

The Gathering Room and several other neighboring businesses relied on Regal Hollywood & IMAX movie theater to draw traffic to the area. But that changed when the theater suspended operations due to the pandemic.

Yet, the Gathering Cafe remains, without its anchor. Partee may have a lot more to do with the business’ success than she is willing to admit. Partee is no stranger to rising above struggles, including surviving breast cancer.

In 2012, after a visit to a coffee shop, Partee said she was inspired to open her own Even as she continued working in the foodservice industry, Partee held on to her dream of owning a cafe.

On February 1, 2020, Partee realized her dream after opening The Gathering Café. She had six employees, full tables and a growing customer base.

For five weeks, The Gathering Cafe was firing on all cylinders, then the pandemic hit. Sarah did not close, but she did have to let go of her dishwasher.

Carina Mendez pours balsamic glaze over an order of avocado and eggs-over-easy in the kitchen at the Gathering Cafe on Easy Street in Ocala on Tuesday. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

She credits a fellow cafe owner for giving her a way to keep her doors open. She served take-out only from her side door.

As the state resumed inside dining, she rehired the dishwasher and added a chef, who has perfected her vegan menu.

Partee prepares all food in-house, “everything from scratch,” with a mixture of family recipes and what she calls, “God-given glorified Espressos.” Partee prays for the ideas for her coffees, and she says she receives them. There is also a prayer wall, where customers can post their own prayer requests, and they can take them down when they are answered.

She also prayed on when what days to operate. She went with Monday through Friday, forgoing Saturday to have enough time to spend with her family. Partee said the cafe never suffered from the shorter schedule. She boasts of increased sales, along with a larger staff.

While the pandemic tested her dream, Partee continues to defy the odds.

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