Bringing Fresh, Intelligent Food To Rim Country



In his early 50s, after a career in commercial property management, David Roberson went back to school to begin a savory new life.

He pursued a culinary degree at the Arizona Culinary Institute and followed his dream of opening a breakfast and lunch restaurant.


David Roberson

"I called myself one of the geezers," Roberson said. "I had more stamina than the younger guys. I was the first one in and the last one out."

After gaining experience in kitchens throughout the Valley, he brought his gourmet palate to Payson in September 2004.

Two months later, Roberson reintroduced the Small Cafe to the gastronomes of the Rim Country.

"Not many people know what real food is," he said. "It's home-cooked, made from scratch -- not that heat and eat stuff."

Small Cafe offers diners an array of breakfast items -- served all day -- and lunch dishes.

"We have a very loyal following," Roberson said. "Our customers tend to be more intelligent about food and they're more concerned about whether we have fresh herbs and use free-range eggs."

For breakfast, Roberson serves classics such as Eggs Benedict, homemade blueberry, raspberry and plain pancakes, and from scratch biscuits and gravy.

At noon, the town's movers-and-shakers come to the cafe to dine on Roberson's lunch specials.

He offers sophisticated bacon and avocado sandwiches and a gourmet twist of the Philly Cheese Steak -- created by Small Cafe chef Steve Sharpe.

Roberson's passion for food began early. He learned his appreciation for food from his mother.

"She was such a good cook and we really ate good food," he said.

Over the years, Roberson perfected the basics. He took tips from cooking shows, experimented with recipes and practiced the fundamentals.

The apex of Roberson's journey culminated when he moved to Payson and bought the Small Cafe from Todd and Sharon Zelinski.

But his fondness for Payson started years ago.

Mark Freegard, Star Valley local and childhood friend of Roberson, introduced him to the area in elementary school.

"I remember coming to Payson and climbing on rocks and seeing matate," he said. "We had so many family events up here. I felt it was time to move."

Many of Roberson's family members subsequently moved to the area, and unlike his vocal younger brother Randy, Roberson chooses to stay neutral and out of the water, growth and election muck.

"My passion is food not politics," Roberson said. "I just listen to people and then I go and get their iced tea."

Instead, the challenges of owning a business and finding reliable help consume his time.

"It's taken me a year and a half to find quality workers, keepers," he said. "I learned from mistakes in the past."

Meanwhile, Roberson said he will continue to add new items to his menu -- such as crepes --and provide fresh food for the gourmet palate.

And if he can slip out for an afternoon of fishing, he'll be living his American Dream.


Name: David Roberson

Occupation: Restaurant owner

Age: 55

Birthplace: Forest City, Iowa

Family: Mavis (Mom, Payson), Randy (brother, Payson), three other brothers in Arizona.

Personal motto: "Take care of those people you know will be at your funeral and let everyone else stand in line."

Greatest feat: Might be restaurant ownership ... We'll see.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Stream fishing / Golf / Learning new things.

Three words that describe me best are ... "Never stop questioning."

I don't want to brag but ... Some customers tell me that the Small Cafe is the best restaurant in Payson.

The person in history I'd most like to meet is: Albert Einstein.

Luxury defined: No worries.

Dream vacation spot: Private beach -- any tropical location.

Why Payson? Family here, climate, mountain views, great people, close to Phoenix (more family).

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