Tonya Atkins opened Happy Day Café in Live Oak in February 2021 serving up homemade favorites. Prior to opening the restaurant, Atkins worked on the River Walk for 27 years in the restaurant industry.
With the regulations and strain the COVID-19 pandemic put on the restaurant industry, the position that Atkins worked was eliminated.
“For 27 years, that was my identity,” Atkins said. “I have always wanted my own place, and me and my friend Everett have always talked about opening a restaurant because we love to cook.”
Having a passion for cooking and losing a job after 27 years, Atkins took the risk of opening her own restaurant. The beginning of running a restaurant was a challenge, Atkins said, but Happy Day Café was able to overcome it and find its place in the community.
“Opening the restaurant got my confidence back,” Atkins said. “During COVID[-19], I really lost everything and felt displaced, but I realized that I did know what I was doing.”
Atkins said she was confident in starting the restaurant, but that she also had to face moments where she felt like giving up. She said instead she persevered through difficult days.
Atkins attributes her success to the community and the customers who came in to give her food a chance.
“We had people that I didn’t know, and it chokes me up, and they helped us,” Atkins said. “We had some young girls who made a TikTok with our food, and I had people who started reviews and things on Yelp.”
With this perseverance, Happy Day Café became popular in the area and won three awards in the Best of Live Oak competition in 2022. The awards included Best Sandwich, Best Breakfast and Best Local Restaurant.
“We were unaware of us leading the competition until it was halfway through the month,” Atkins said. “It was so surprising to us to have all those people supporting us and saying we were their favorite restaurant in the city. It was one of those times I was ready to lock the door, but then I saw that and knew I had to keep going.”
Happy Day Café offers breakfast and lunch with the full menu available at any time during the day. Atkins said she takes pride in her homemade food, including local favorites such as scrambled egg rolls, biscuit sandwiches and burgers.
“We make our own biscuits, and we cut our own potatoes,” Atkins said. “If we can do it by hand, then we will.”
With Happy Day Café finding its footing, Atkins hopes to one day expand to a second location or to try a new project in the future.
For now, Atkins said she will continue moving forward with her restaurant and serving the best food she can.
“This community has allowed me a great opportunity and has really humbled me, and I am so appreciative of the kindness,” Atkins said.