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Meet John Smith, American Dreamer. (Yes, That's His Real Name).

Laid off from a successful career in big business, Berwyn restauranteur John Smith is finally living his american dream... on his terms.

John Smith was "living the dream." With a nice house on the Main Line, a wife and five children, gardeners, a luxury vacation every year and a big corporate job it sure looked like the American dream. 

It was a dream job, but it was not his dream.

Smith graduated from in 1981, majored in accounting at Drexel University, and landed a job with Toll Brothers, the national home building company based in Huntington Valley.

While he was thriving on the outside, Smith says he was withering on the inside. "I knew 10-15 years ago," that it was not the job for him.

Smith is clearly a people person who values his customers as friends. Walk into his Berwyn breakfast spot  for the first time and it's likely the only time he will need to ask you your name. Regulars, and there are many, are greeted as friends and always with a smile. The vibe is "Cheers" without the beers. It's a relaxing, warm atmosphere that's about as far from crunching numbers in a corporate setting as one could imagine. And that's exactly how Smith, who bought the business from Patty McElaney in May, likes it.

"Golden Handcuffs"

For two decades, Smith had a great accounting job at Toll Brothers. He was able to crunch numbers, and find savings, and track down problems when they arose with the balance sheets. He describes himself as a guy who could parachute in to Toll Brothers offices around the country when needs arose and hit the ground running. He developed a training program for accountants and kept track of billions of dollars.

He also took a lavish vacation every year and went out to lunch every day, not because he was 'living the life' but to escape the drudgery. "I used to go out for lunch 'cause I hated" the job. The same went for vacations. "I made good money and I took expensive vacations," Smith explains because when you can only escape once a year from a job that's not right for you "you gotta make the most of it."

Now Smith eats breakfast and lunch every day at his favorite restaurant—his. Vacation these days is a week at the Jersey shore. He takes it to spend time with his wife and five children. Instead of dreading the return to work, he looks forward to going back to the new career he is personally invested in.

That's not all that has changed in Smith's life and outlook.

Scaling back and breathing easier

"I have no more professionals at my home," Smith says. He cuts his own grass and does his own handy work, the things he never had time to do when he was working late all the time. "It's amazing (how much you can spend) when you look at the cost of going to work. I've probably scaled back $1,000 a month from what I used to pay."

Smith has also stopped worrying about retirement. He said he used to have a goal of having "three million dollars" in the bank so he could retire. Now he has no desire to retire. "When you're in that (corporate) situation, you're gonna retire, travel, play golf?" It always seemed kind of empty to think about.  Now when he talks about retiring, Smith looks around at the people enjoying his restaurant, a broad smile comes over his face, and he says "this is it! I don't worry about how I'm gonna get to my $3 million when I'm 65. I could be dead when I'm 65."

Welcome 'bad' news

None of Smith's new-found job satisfaction, fulfillment and sunny outlook on life would have been possible without the collapse of the housing market. Smith saw the writing on the wall and had time to prepare financially. Even as he was laying off accountants who worked for him at Toll Brothers, he took steps to start banking against the chance he would be laid off. When it happened, he was happy to get the news and to be set free from a situation he hated, but would have stayed in for the security.

Jumping in

Smith said he knew that he was good with numbers but he wanted to buy an established business. After two years of looking at possibilities, he found Pattymac's Cafe. It seemed like a good fit for both Smith and Patty McElaney. She still works there part time and it's her name on the front door. She wanted a buyer, he wanted a place that had a following and the potential for expansion. In May they closed the deal.

"Patty is the goodwill," Smith explains. It's a combination that seems to be working. Smith has made some changes like featuring weekly lunch specials instead of daily specials (to let word of mouth spread) and plans to add an outside deck down the road. Both Patty Mac and John Smith are connected to their customers old and new. Spend a few lunch hours in the cafe and you quickly see there are no strangers at Pattymac's. There's nothing corporate/cubicle about it. Just look at the photos of the signs that hang on the walls.

The accountant in John Smith took a long hard look at the numbers before taking the plunge. His heart told him buying Pattymac's was the right thing to do.

Smith cautions his dream—changing experience may not be for everyone. "You need to be a little desperate and a little bit crazy to do this. I'm OK with not playing it safe."

Nick Nack August 18, 2011 at 06:38 PM
Has anyone noticed the beautiful figurines in the restaurant?
Taye Bell Furtoo August 18, 2011 at 06:40 PM
I have serious reservations about this place
Bob Byrne (Editor) August 19, 2011 at 12:15 AM
Lou, nowhere does it say he "walked away" In fact he was laid off and that opened a path he might never have taken.
Lao Tse Parker August 19, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Does anyone know if there is off street parking here? I am not very good at parallel parking
Corey O. Graff August 19, 2011 at 02:10 PM
I am in the process of putting a trip together for dinner. It takes extreme planning, perfect timing and snychronization. Anyone interested in participating
Earl Lee Riser August 19, 2011 at 02:28 PM
Heading over for breakfast- slept in today - very unusual
Eaton Wright August 19, 2011 at 02:30 PM
Great food here and good for you
Helen Back August 19, 2011 at 02:49 PM
been to the place and headed there again
Phil A. Minyan August 19, 2011 at 03:49 PM
How are the steaks at this place?
Adam Baum August 19, 2011 at 03:52 PM
best food this side of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. A veritable explosion for the taste buds
Bud Light August 19, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Is this place BYOB?
Hugh Daman August 19, 2011 at 03:58 PM
You go, Adam!
Ewan Watarmy August 19, 2011 at 04:01 PM
oh yeah? says who??
Barb E. Dahl August 19, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Is there off street parking for my Corvette or Ken I just leave it out front?
Otto M. Kanick August 19, 2011 at 04:15 PM
just leave your car with me, Barb......I'll take good care of it
RObin D'Craydell August 19, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Does this place have booster seats? I want to bring my boyfriend
Kenya Dewit August 19, 2011 at 04:19 PM
I made it to Pattymac's cafe - how about you?
Lou Zar August 19, 2011 at 04:21 PM
have no had much luck lately. Perhaps that will change with a trip to this place
Manny Kinn August 19, 2011 at 04:23 PM
This blog is great! I am so tired of hanging around fake and artificial types - seems like real folks here
Bonnie Ann Clyde August 19, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Restaurants without free parking are public enemies and partners in crime with the parking authority
Weston East August 19, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Bonnie - I agree. They need a moral COMPASS
Noah Lott August 19, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Don't question me on this one - Pattymac's cafe is the best
Penny Wise August 19, 2011 at 04:40 PM
excellent value at this establishment - especially the crabcakes
Rich Guy August 19, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Penny - you are so right. I typically do not want worry about money but I do enjoy good value - thanks!
April Schauers August 19, 2011 at 04:57 PM
MAY I bring flowers?
Levon Kotes August 19, 2011 at 07:57 PM
is it hot or cold inside this place?
Wes Noil August 19, 2011 at 07:59 PM
Yes, Chris, they use vegetable oil and canola oil.
Hy Marx August 19, 2011 at 08:00 PM
I give Pattymac's a 9
Mike Raffone August 19, 2011 at 08:14 PM
can you hear yourself think or do you have to speak over all the other patrons?
Bob Byrne (Editor) August 19, 2011 at 08:18 PM
Wow. What a week of great comments. Thanks to all who commented both under their real names (and some very creative monikers). The response to this story has been overwhelming and is appreciated.

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