Lauren Schlueter and the Carolina Cafe

Opened in 1996, the Carolina Cafe has been a staple of downtown Columbia for decades, and in 2014, a second location was opened in West Columbia near the Lexington Medical Center. The restaurant is owned by Lauren Schlueter and her husband Max, a husband-and-wife duo from Rochester, NY who are bringing a little bit of the north to the south. The cafe, open seven days a week is known for its fresh bagels and delicious cream cheeses as well as Lauren’s homemade pasta, potato and macaroni salads.

Her Campus South Carolina: Why did you decide to enter the restaurant industry?

Lauren Schlueter: I had a big passion for food. Not so much the preparing, but the eating. My mother was always considered a gourmet cook; she was always trying new recipes and exposing us to new foods. I just love the industry.

HCSC: What are the biggest challenges of owning your own restaurant?

LS: Unexpected expenses, like repairs on equipment. Also, employees, that’s probably number one. And it doesn’t get better, it gets worse. But you always have your shining stars and it renews your faith in the youth of today.

HCSC: How did you decide on the name “Carolina Cafe”?

LS: It was originally called the Carolina Bagel Company, but people didn’t get it; they didn’t really understand that it wasn’t just bagels. We changed the name to be more general so people understood we were more than bagels, we were also sandwiches and soups and catering.

HCSC: When and why did you decide to start the catering side of your business?

LS: It was kinda asked about when we first opened. We had requests from people who wanted me to do a luncheon or a birthday because they loved our chicken salad or our egg salad. I really love doing it and it's a good source of income with food going out the front door and out the back door.

HCSC: Is it hard to balance your work and family life?

LS: Sometimes. It's hard to leave your own business for long periods of time to see family. But, you’re also more flexible with being able to do it last minute if we get the opportunity. And much more flexibility owning your own business because you can kinda plan for short getaways.

HCSC: What has been your happiest moment since opening the cafe?

LS: Being invited to a wedding for two employees who met at the cafe. That was pretty exciting. And, they have two babies now because of it, so that's pretty cool!

Whether you’re craving a classic bacon, egg and cheese (on a hot bagel, of course!) or want to try a chicken salad sandwich (aka the Hilton Head, our favorite!), make sure to stop by the Carolina Cafe and Catering Company!