PUNXSUTAWNEY — Every morning, shortly after 4 a.m., Lill Cameron heads to her West Mahoning Street bakery, where she starts making a bundle of homemade goods for her customers.
Lily’s Bakery, Deli and Restaurant of Punxsutawney is a popular town hub not just on Groundhog Day, but every day. And, for many locals, it is a tradition to dine in, or swing by the bakery for some homemade soup, potato salad or coconut crème pie.
All before noon, Cameron will have made about 20 dishes, including several different kinds of soup — all of which she has to make herself, since she creates and recreates the homemade recipes by memory.
In the winter, Cameron makes more than 250 gallons of soup each month, and she has made as many as 35 gallons in a day.
She would never use fake stock, or make soup that isn’t homemade, Cameron says. She comes up with something different from traditional chicken noodle or Italian wedding, too, such as buffalo chicken soup or homemade pierogis.
The restaurant and bakery/deli are side-by-side in the same building, with 26 employees, said Kayla Smith. Lily’s Restaurant opened about 11 years ago, and the bakery followed a few years after.
Cameron was a hard worker at a very young age, growing up with parents in the catering and restaurant business, she said. Her family also has always given back to the community, and she has followed in their footsteps. She regularly caters and donates items to Punxsutawney fundraising events.
Cameron has always enjoyed cooking, she said, but it was never a lifelong dream of hers to open a restaurant — it was something that just came along. Prior to this, she did bookwork for 17 years.
Some Punxsutawney regulars will drop into the bakery daily, or call to see what Cameron is making that day. People meet in the restaurant side, morning and night, enjoying the fellowship and friendly environment, she said.
“If you see a guy eating here alone, he won’t be alone for long,” Cameron said.
The other staff members consider regulars like family, too, Cameron said, doing little favors like automatically adding honey to a customer’s tea.
“It’s a nice family environment here,” Cameron said. “My waitresses give good customer service.”
Some of the older customers may be on a fixed income, Cameron says, which is why it’s important to her that her products aren’t expensive. She also makes homemade TV dinners, which are popular and quick meals for customers to pick up and heat up.
“I like to keep the prices down for people,” she said.
Cameron would do just about anything for anyone, Smith said. One year, she told a customer to come to her house on Christmas, since the restaurant was closed. She won “Career Woman of the Year” three years ago.
“She’d give you the shirt off your back,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen her turn anyone away.”
Cameron is known for going above and beyond for her customers, doing things like making a homemade grape pie for a 90-year-old’s birthday, squeezing each and every grape to do so. Whatever a customer is looking for, she makes sure they get it fresh and that it is her best.
For more information, visit Lily’s Bakery, Deli, Restaurant on Facebook or call 814-938-9419.