Economy eats away at Hudson cafe

HUDSON – Word has it that Susan Daniels makes some of the best golumpki and gelato around. But even they were no match for the mighty downhill express named Economy when it rumbled in and claimed yet another local small business a couple of weeks ago.

Susan’s European Cafe, where Daniels and her small but dedicated staff tickled many a tummy with her golumpki, gelato, unique sandwiches and German/Bavarian pastries over the past 18 months, has closed after several weeks of lackluster business made it impractical to continue, Daniels said Monday.

“With the economy the way it is, people just stopped coming in . . . it seems a lot of people are hurting right now,” she said. “Obviously, I didn’t have the money to advertise, which contributed to the problem as well.”

Passers-by on heavily travelled Lowell Road perhaps noticed that “for sale” signs have appeared on the lawn of the large, two-story building, which sits prominently at the corner of Lowell Road and Winn Avenue. Daniels said the land, which she and her father, Charles Daniels, own, is for sale along with the business.

It is listed with Exeter-based Murphy & Murphy Real Estate. The firm’s site doesn’t show a sale price, but 2008 town of Hudson assessing records value the building and land – about a half-acre – at $757,800.

These days, the ladybug banner that states “welcome friends” still hangs near the entrance, which is lined with flowerboxes whose contents show signs of giving way to autumn. The doors are posted not with a simple “closed” sign, but with a heartfelt message from Daniels.

“Because of the failing economy and lack of business, it is with sad regret we have made the decision to close our establishment,” the note begins.

“To all my loyal customers I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart . . . For many of you it was the friendships we made along the way that will be valued the most.”

Despite the cafe’s relatively brief lifespan, Daniels said its warm, down-home atmosphere spawned countless friendships among regular customers and employees, something that made the decision to close all the more difficult.

“It hurt us deeply,” she said. “There are so many people we saw on a daily basis who we may not see again . . . we’ll miss them, that’s for sure.”

“We” is Daniels and employee Marybeth Brown, her son’s girlfriend, whom Daniels calls “my right-hand girl.” Brown has worked there from start to finish, posted mostly at the front register.

While some of the more regular customers noticed shorter lines and emptier chairs over the past few months, there wasn’t a widespread realization that the cafe was teetering on the brink, Daniels said.

“People sensed it, I think . . . something that was really nice is that on the last Sunday we were open, a lot of regulars came by,” she said. “That day had a really nice feel about it, it was like when we first started out.”

Saying goodbye to regular social interaction with customers-turned-friends is clearly the hard part for Daniels.

From a business standpoint, she’s calmly philosophical – “God has blessed me with many capabilities . . . there are a number of things I could do in the future. Right now I’m just kind of hanging in limbo, waiting to see what path he’ll choose for me,” she said.

Somewhat surprisingly, Daniels’ core customers hailed not so much from Hudson, or even Nashua, but from across the Massachusetts border. And most of those, she said, came up from Lowell, even though she and her family have lived in Hudson since 1970.

For that, she credits the golumpki – and a little feature story that appeared in the Lowell Sun. “At first, I only had the golumpki as a special once in a while,” she said. “But when that story was in the paper, (the soup) became kind of famous. A lot of people came up (from Lowell) asking for it, so I thought I’d better make it a daily menu item – I didn’t want to have them come all the way for nothing.

“I never knew there was that big a Polish community in Lowell, but I guess there is,” she said.

In retrospect, Daniels said, it might have been wiser to close sooner than later. “I probably should have – those last few months, it was only Marybeth and me, we were doing the work of four or five people. But I just couldn’t bring myself to (close).

“But we knew we couldn’t keep going like that,” she added. “When it all finally ended, it came almost as a relief for us.”