When Signe's opened on Aug. 11, 1972, in Harbour Town, it was called "Signe's World - A World of Good Things." Back then, in addition to the oversized chocolate chip cookies, Signe Gardo sold imported cheeses, Belgian chocolates and handmade sandwiches.
"We made $28 that first day," Gardo said with a smile.
What does it take to own and operate a restaurant for 45 years on Hilton Head, one of the most competitive food and beverage environments in the region? A perfect location? A national brand? A world class chef? A full liquor license?
Signe's Heaven Bound Bakery Café needs none of those. The island landmark is owned and operated by a petite blond dynamo of 70-plus years. She has a gift for creative recipes, a heart for people and creative good sense for both food and business operations.
At a slight 5-foot-4, 94 pounds, Gardo has outlasted dozens of others in the breakfast and lunch business on the island, including such national chains as Cracker Barrel and Shoney's.
Gardo does have a tireless work ethic, but beyond that she has a unique perspective. She prefers thinking of her employees as friends to be mentored. Her Christian commitment impacts that, as she especially enjoys encouraging them in ways of life, as well as work.
After 40 years, former vendors, delivery people and even salesmen still stop by to chat when in the area.
A recent week's alumni drop-ins included two missionaries who grew up locally and worked at Signe's during summers. Both have seen a lot of life across the globe since then, but still cherish their bakery summers three decades later.
Generations of customers return year-after-year. Gardo frequently welcomes grandkids brought by their grandmothers to meet her and have a chocolate chip cookie like Grandma enjoyed when she was a youngster.
Looking to keep pace with growing competition, Signe has been clever at expanding into new areas and creating new products. First it was breakfast and the introduction of her heralded "deep dish French Toast," and then it was expanding the bakery menu.
Signe has prepared an estimated 7,000 wedding cakes, which has earned her accolades as one of the best wedding cake makers in the Southeast, according to The Knot and Wedding Wire.
Most recently, Signe's has been offering take-home dinners, which are announced by email and on Facebook each Monday. Locals call by 3 p.m. and pick up by 6 p.m. The popularity is growing, especially among seniors and working women.
Signe's Heaven Bound Bakery Café is located at 93 Arrow Road. For more information, visit www.SignesBakery.com or call 843-785-9118.
Glen McCaskey is a local freelance writer and photographer with a special interest in the area's history.