~ The following was published in the winter issue of All About Her, a regional news insert.
She's affectionately known by some as "The Countess of Coffee," and is the "Little Diva" in the band "Little Diva and the G-Strings." Co-owner of Floyd's Café del Sol and vocalist performer with a degree in Music Therapy, Sally Walker says her love of music and good coffee are about to converge.
"I've started to work on a new CD. All the songs are about coffee," Walker said in between bites of a tuna salad lunch and with the afternoon sun beaming in the large café windows.
Sally and her husband Frank opened their café four years ago after missing the lattes (espresso with steamed milk) they had in Seattle while visiting Frank's daughter, Sarah. "We wanted to have quality lattes here in Floyd," Sally said about the couple's initial interest in opening a café. That interest was further piqued when the owner of the Winter Sun building, a renovated textile factory, made a comment early on in the building's renovation, saying she thought the corner spot of the building (where the café now sits) would make a cute café.
"Cafés are fun places where a lot culture and networking happen," Walker said, citing another impetus behind the conception of Café del Sol. She was also tired of commuting for her music therapy practice, which took her into the school systems of Roanoke and Allegany Highlands.
Once the Walkers let their adventurous spirits win over the prospect of the hard work they knew opening a café would involve, they did their own renovations. Frank built the cafe tables. His daughter Sarah, who ran cafés in Seattle, flew in to teach barista arts to the Walkers and their staff - which has included two daughters, a son, and a son-in-law.
Today, Café del Sol is a hub in the downtown landscape of the one stoplight town. Along with a variety of coffee drinks and teas, the café serves lunch and desserts, and offers wireless internet access. Besides their regular hours of operation, they host a Friday Night Music series (which Sally sometimes sits in on), and the third Saturday Spoken Word Open Mic. The café is also home to what Walker calls a "rotating cast of characters," referring to the café "regulars" and any combination of the café's twelve young employees, many of whom Walker says she has watched grow up.
"It's a fun place to work. I think we keep it fun behind the counter," Walker said. Judging from the tip jar that says "Afraid of Change, Leave it Here" on one side and "Support Counter Intelligence" on the other side, the CD soundtrack, the comfy couch in the corner, and the rotating local art that graces the bright gold walls, it's clear that Walker and her staff strive to provide an atmosphere for relaxing and focusing on the lighter side of life.
"We freshly grind each draw," Walker said, explaining the art of making a good latte. "Steaming milk is a multi-sensory skill," she continued, describing how attention must be paid to the look of the drink and the sound of the steam wand as it changes pitch. Pitch is something the musician barista knows about.
Since she was a child Sally has been drawn to performing. In the 70's she played folk music in coffee houses and joined the River Flow Band. In the 80's she sang with Just Jake, a band whose name Walker coined when she plunked the dictionary and her finger landed on "jake" (which means A-OK). Her musical background cumulated in 2003 with the release of her first CD - World on a String - a collection of jazz standards that showcase her sultry smooth vocals.
It's hard to imagine with all Walker juggles that she still finds time for music gigs, but she does. This past year she has performed at a wedding, a benefit, a private party, along with gigs at Oddfellas Cantina and the Zion Church Oak Grove Pavilion Summer music series. She still has a few music therapy clients in Roanoke. "On Tuesdays I go to Roanoke, see my clients, pick up bagels, and then go to Sam's Club for café supplies," she quipped.
Walker is looking forward to some extended time in the recording studio in February, saying "I love being in the studio." If all goes well, a visit to the Café in late spring might include a café signature latte, a tasty treat, and some good conversation, all to the tune of Walker's new songs playing on the CD stereo. ~ Colleen Redman
Post note: Sally records her CD's at Floyd's own Mountain Fever Studio. Locals can hear her sing Friday night February 27 at Oddfellas Cantina in Floyd or click HERE.