| By Larry Oskin |
For Amanda Walsh, owning restaurants runs in the family.
The Cheeser’s Palace Cafe restaurant owner’s love for the culinary world began early, as she grew up helping her parents with their shops. They purchased The Galley Restaurant when Amanda was 2, nestled in the Sailfish Marina on Singer Island.
By age 5, Amanda and her brother, Brad, would peel potatoes at 5 a.m. before heading to school. Their after-school chores focused on the restaurant, too. The siblings washed dishes, cleared tables, rolled silverware and helped prep for dinner service.
But it wasn’t all work. The kids got to fish, swim, feed pelicans, help fisherman unload their daily catches and run them straight from the boats to her dad to cook for the special of the evening.
“It was an amazing time and wonderful memories,” Amanda said.
Soon, Amanda went off to boarding school. But her summers were spent helping out in the restaurant. She learned to cook, serve and take care of financial records. As Amanda got older, her respect for the restaurant business deepened, and she decided she, too, would own a restaurant one day.
Amanda’s parents also owned a neat shop in Ohio named… Cheeser’s Palace.
They specialized in wine, cheese and gifts. They aged their own cheeses in a cellar.
Amanda’s mother Carol Kayser even toured Europe to study cheese and earned herself a certificate as a fromage expert.
Sadly, larger grocery chains eventually squeezed out the smaller retailer. Yet, the story doesn’t end there.
“My mom never let go of her love for cheese and her desire to own a cheese shop again,” Amanda told Clermont Magazine.
Amanda attended Northwood University for hotel restaurant management and started a family. She worked for Publix Supermarkets and helped open a new territory for the company in Georgia. Eventually, she was reassigned to help open the Kings Ridge Publix before retiring in 2003, after her second daughter, Emma, was born.
The Walsh family now had three children with Tyler Stenitz, Samantha Walsh and Emma Walsh. Amanda’s mother, Carol, soon moved to Clermont to be closer to Amanda and her family. During this time, they planned to open what would become Cheeser’s Palace Café in Clermont.
Amanda got her first taste of Clermont 18 years ago, when some friends invited the then Oveido resident and her husband, Sean, for a weekend there.
The couple stopped for lunch at a cute, quaint restaurant called the Country Skillet. They spent most of lunch talking about changes and neat ideas for the eatery.
In late 2000, they began their search for a home in this beautiful town where they wanted to raise their children.
Cheeser’s began serving South Lake in 2004 as a full-service caterer. In 2006, it moved from catering to a full-service restaurant in its current location at 707 West Montrose St.
That location has a rich history that includes a post office, dress shop, pharmacy, soda fountain, sundries and several restaurants, such as the Country Skillet.
Amanda couldn’t be happier with the location.
“Downtown Clermont is the most beautiful location nestled between two huge lakes,” Amanda said. “This was my first pick of locations… It had to be fate!”
Amanda’s mom, Carol, created the first menus, held cheese classes and special events, baked and managed the kitchen until she retired.
Amanda’s entire family has worked at Cheeser’s at one time or another.
That includes her oldest son, Tyler, 24, a deli manager for Publix in North Carolina. At 16, Samantha helps cook on weekends and prepares several breakfast and lunch items. At 15, Emma is their weekend food runner. All the children grew up in the business.
Although Amanda’s husband does not work at the café, he refers to his role as “The Indentured Servant.” Cheeser’s currently employs eight staff members outside the family.
The 1,800-square-foot location offers dog friendly outdoor seating. A pianist sometimes surprises guests with original music.
Cheeser’s offers moderate prices and large portions. It has been serving breakfast in Downtown Clermont for 12 years.
Its popular breakfast menu is extensive. Choose from five crepe combinations, a huge assortment of eggs, including eggs Benedict on rich butter croissants; French selections like cinnamon raisin or challah bread, Belgium waffles topped with Nutella and fresh fruit, and traditional dishes like eggs, bacon, sausage and apple chicken sausage.
Cheeser’s lunch menu also presents a feast — from salads named after the area to specialty sandwiches like the Clermont Police Department’s favorite “The PoPo” Italian, to the black angus burgers topped with specialty cheeses, such as whiskey cheddar, Cahill’s Irish Porter, blue cheese and aged cheddar.
A new item available this summer is their Victory Pointe Plate, including rolled ham and a boiled egg over a spring mix with toasted raisin-walnut bread, mango chutney and fresh fruit.
Cheeser’s takes pride in its high quality food and service and fresh ingredients. For example, its all white-meat chicken salad is brought in fresh, boiled, hand pulled and mixed with Hellmann’s mayonnaise to ensure it is gluten free, before they add spices and red grapes.
For dessert, the shop makes its chocolates there, exclusively available in the café. You’ll also find other specialty items like chocolate creams, nuts, cookies and sometimes chews. The assortment changes throughout the year.
Cheeser’s displays a variety of art, including Carl Purcell photographs, paintings by Pat Gastreich of Cincinnati, food photos by Amanda, family heirlooms including photos of her grandmother, Pat, and her great aunt, Helen, and an auditorium sign from Jenkins Auditorium before it was demolished.
More than a Restaurant
You can rent out Cheeser’s semi-private space for special events and business meetings.
It regularly has baby and bridal showers, birthday parties, political meetings, local business groups and South Lake Chamber of Commerce gatherings. Many guests like to celebrate holidays, business launches and other family celebrations here.
Cheeser’s also continues to provide full-service catering. It occasionally offers cheese workshops. Stay tuned, as Cheeser’s is looking into beer and wine licensing and may soon consider dinner service options.
Fame & Service
Cheeser’s has been featured on reality TV shows like Catfish and My Crazy Obsession. It also has been the back drop of a few TV commercials featured on Lake Sumter Television, most recently for a PUR Clinic segment on caffeine with Channel 9.
The restaurant has earned numerous awards from the local media including “Best Caterer,” three-time “Award Winning Sandwich” — the Red Baron — and two-time award winning sandwich — The Italian aka “The PoPo.”
Amanda also helps the Clermont community, donating to several events throughout the year supporting causes like hospice and local schools. She has served on the South Lake Chamber of Commerce for six years, and she has been an active Clermont Downtown Partnership member. She emcees the annual Signature Chef’s Auction.
The Walsh family’s passion and dedication has helped Cheeser’s become a Clermont staple.