Uptown Cafe Operates With Community and Quality in Mind

Writer / Renee Larr
Photographer / Sarah Browning

When Jonathon Smith was 16 years old, he realized he needed to find a job if he wanted to get his own car. In 1998 Smith got a job at Sunrise Cafe in Carmel, working the toaster to save up the money he needed to purchase a vehicle. Smith couldn’t have imagined that his high school job would lead to the ownership of several restaurants of his own, 25 years later.Sunrise Cafe

“My parents told me if I wanted to get a car, I needed to get a job,” Smith says. “My best friend told me his uncle owned a restaurant and that’s how I got the job. A few years later, in 2002, I helped Scott Horsfield open the Fishers location of the Sunrise Cafe.”

Smith says he enjoyed the job and the other longtime, loyal employees, and decided to stick with it. In 2013 Smith and Horsfield opened a Sunrise Cafe location in Noblesville as partners. In 2015 Smith bought out Horsfield and changed the name to Uptown Cafe.

“Uptown Cafe is my version of Sunrise Cafe, but with a few subtle tweaks,” Smith says. “At Uptown we try to make everything homemade, from our condiments, dressings and sauces, and baked items like our cinnamon rolls and English muffins. That’s why I changed the name. The Uptown Cafe location in Noblesville is actually a historical landmark. It’s been there since 1932.”

Smith has since opened two other Uptown Cafe locations in Indianapolis and Carmel. He co-owns the restaurants with a group of friends he’s known since his days at Hamilton Southeastern (HSE) High School. Smith says he appreciates the opportunity Horsfield gave him to own and operate restaurants, and he wants to continue that tradition with others.

“I’m turning around and paying that forward by allowing them to get into restaurant ownership,” Smith says. “I want to grow this into something that can be a career for all of us. The biggest concern was keeping this group of people together.”Sunrise Cafe

The group purchased the Fishers Sunrise Cafe location in March. Smith says they will keep the restaurant’s name for now, but will start to change the menu slowly. The group will add homemade menu items and purchase ingredients from local businesses.

“I assumed the lease on the location from Scott for the next two years,” Smith says. “The name will stay the same for that period of time. After that, we will likely switch the name to Uptown Cafe. We’ll start slowly tweaking some of the products to more homemade items.”

Sunrise Cafe Smith is a hands-on restaurant owner and works at a breakneck pace. He says he’s up at 2 a.m. and home at 7 p.m., ensuring things run smoothly in the day-to-day operations. He wasn’t planning on acquiring the Fishers location when he did, but it’s been a pleasant surprise.

“I’ve been working at this pace for the last two years,” Smith says. “I opened the Carmel location in 2021 so that store is only in its second year, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity when the Fishers acquisition came up.”

In 2020 during the height of the pandemic, Uptown Cafe received a Small Business Resilience Grant from the City of Noblesville and Mayor Chris Jensen. Smith says the funds not only helped with finances, but also raised staff morale. Uptown Cafe created The E.G.G. (Educational Gift Grant), to continue giving back to the community that so graciously gave to them.

“We hadn’t made any changes to our children’s menu in over a decade,” Smith says. “We decided to revamp the menu, donating the proceeds from the menu items to the local school systems in each area. We usually write a check around the holidays to give to the schools.”Sunrise Cafe

His humble beginnings on the toaster, which led to the ownership of several restaurants, isn’t lost on Smith. He realizes he’s come full circle, but says he doesn’t think about it too much. Instead his focus is on growing the business.

“I’m very grateful for Scott bringing us all together, but I don’t think about how far I’ve come from high school,” Smith says. “It’s awesome, but my day-to-day focus is to be the best breakfast and lunch spot in central Indiana. I grew up loving the food and we wanted to continue that tradition. Three of the five owners of the Fishers location all went to HSE schools. My focus is to keep the group together and grow the business.”

Sunrise Cafe in Fishers is located at 9767 East 116th Street. For additional details, visit sunrisecafefishersin.com. For more information regarding Uptown Cafe, visit uptowncafes.com.

Comments 2

  1. Charles Chapootie says:

    Big fan of both Uptown and Sunrise, EXCEPT the ketchup. Please switch to Red Gold or Heinz!

  2. John O’Malia says:

    I have to disagree with Charles, we absolutely love the catsup. All of the Uptown/Sunrise restaurants are incredible. If you have not visited them, it’s very well worth your time to do so. Locally owned businesses are getting harder to find. Support them when you can.

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