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Gets Personal with Leslie Wilson Executive Chef & Owner of Shine Café

Gets Personal with Leslie Wilson Executive Chef  & Owner of Shine Café

Originally built by a female architect in 1928, this house in the heart of Conway was originally the Chestnut family home, then opened as The Tourist Home (a boarding house mainly for Veterans), then a Tea Shop, and then a bridal shop, is now the home of Shine Café. Leslie opened her café in 2019 after she spent several years renovating the house as historically accurate. She has always loved old homes, cooking, and growing her own goods in her garden. “I grew up in a unique, old home and was always at my mom’s elbow in the kitchen wanting to taste new foods,” said Leslie. After she retired as a teacher to raise her children, she spent two decades cooking for the community, schools, nonprofits, and her church, which inspired her to open her own café someday.

Shine Café not only offers delicious cuisine with flavor in every bite, but also local art, jewelry, and tea. The art is rotated every two months, so on the last Thursday of every other month, they offer artist meet and greet nights including live music and free wine and hors d’oeuvres. Upstairs, Shine has a space where they also offer massage therapy and yoga sessions. As a child, Leslie was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and was taught from a young age how vital it is to stretch and strengthen her muscles. She meditates, stretches, and exercises with yoga and Pilates every day.

“Whenever I get home from work, I always stretch and as it calms me and releases tension throughout my body, I am able to get better sleep,” Leslie continued, “people think they don’t have the strength to exercise, but really, you don’t have the strength not to – it’s important to just start because your body will only get worse the longer you wait.”

Leslie’s morning routine begins at 6 a.m. when she gives thanks for the day, drinks her coffee, and heads to the café to prep for lunch. “I stay positive and productive by simply showing up to work because I genuinely enjoy cooking for others. It’s like I lined up to do what I love every single day,” Leslie explained, as she feels that her job is to raise everyone’s energy who comes into the café, whether it be a worker or a guest. She listens to music as she prepares for the day and plays different genres during restaurant hours such as classic guitar, jazz, and local artists’ CDs.

New Year’s resolutions have never really been Leslie’s thing, but she is going to give it a go this year because she has been trying to heal her patches of very dry, rough skin. As a chef who is very aware of their nutrition intake, she knows something she is eating is affecting her – her love of bread and chocolate. As hard as it is to resist the fresh biscuits, focaccia and Challah bread they make, she is committed to cutting those items down to one serving a day. Luckily, the café offers several yummy, good-for-you options as well – even the desserts that were voted the best in Conway by the Restaurant Guru.

Leslie makes every dish with love, and the light within her shines as bright as her café. Be sure to check out their events as well as their catering information so you can add some of her home cooking with international flair to your next affair. With an interesting history and a cozy, artistic ambiance, make Shine Café your next local spot for “front porch sittin’ and sweet tea sippin’.”


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