It’s hard to envision Sunshine Factory as a ‘70’s era fern bar complete with its cedar building and plants in macrame hangers. But Sunshine Factory, now going on its fourth year in the Plymouth location, has established sustainable roots in the industry, which have enabled the family-owned restaurant to survive through multiple eras. In June, the restaurant turned 40, and celebrated the milestone with trivia, music and memorabilia from the era.
Randy Rosengren started Sunshine Factory in its original New Hope location in 1976 with his father, Earl. Sunshine Factory was created because the stars aligned in three ways. At the time, Rosengren had restaurant experience, already co-owning another restaurant. The city of New Hope changed its liquor license to allow private licenses. Lastly, Rosengren’s father, who was in the commercial construction business, had been developing the piece of land north of 42nd Avenue, part of which became home to Sunshine Factory for 37 years.
The Sunshine in the name reflects the time period. Coming out of the hippie era, not only did sunshine communicate warmth and feel-good positivity, but the word has other cultural ties, too. There was The Sunshine Boys, the movie that came out in 1975. There was The Sunshine, a local area band. But perhaps the biggest inspiration for the name was Sunshine Meat & Fish & Liquor Co., a restaurant Rosengren saw out in Palm Springs, Calif. that embodied many of the elements he had in mind for his restaurant.
“The goal was to be a community centered restaurant offering good value,” Rosengren says of the driving force behind Sunshine Factory. Although it has evolved with the changing times, the heart behind it has remained consistent. “Businesses must evolve, but it’s important while they are doing that, they don’t change. You can’t lose sight of what you are and who you are trying to be,” says Rosengren, who has seen societal, dining and eating trends drastically shift throughout the years.
Technology has dramatically changed as well. Rosengren remembers when the restaurant had phone booths and phone directories. He’s seen fax machines enter and almost exit the market. He’s watched the restaurant industry’s awareness for alcohol and consumption change. When Sunshine Factory opened, the drinking age was 18.
Dietary outlook has evolved. “I think it’s safe to say that dining practices and what was important to people 40 years ago bears little resemblance to what is important today,” Rosengren says, adding that portion size was more important back then. “Also, red meat was king in the restaurant business,” he says. Sunshine Factory was once known for its prime rib. It was the business’s identity for many years. Today’s menu still features red meat, but it is not the central focus.
“We have aged as a business and our clientele, some of them, have aged right along with us,” Rosengren says. He says he feels a sense of accomplishment and contentment for being able to survive a high-mortality industry and for providing a service and a means of employment for so many people.
“If you stay stuck in one era, those are the places that don’t always progress,” says Sheila DeValk, a Sunshine Factory employee since 1984. DeValk, who worked as a waitress for the first 13 years, serves as a restaurant manager today. DeValk has seen many physical changes in the restaurant throughout her time, including the restaurant remodel in the late ‘80s. But it’s the people she remembers most vividly.
“You develop real connections with people,” DeValk says of both customers and employees, adding she sees many of them as family. “This is home for me. It’s not just a place to work.”