When Andreotti's Viennese Cafe opened in Cherry Hill in 1983, Marianne Andreotti would deliver her restaurant's seven-cheese spread to people sitting outside in their cars, waiting for a table.
"We were so afraid they were going to leave," said Andreotti, whose father, Mark, started the restaurant on Route 70, then primarily a pastry shop with lunch seating.
The patrons stayed, and the Andreottis expanded, over the years adding a dining room, piano, bar, and dance floor. The space evolved, but the traditions remained, including free hors d'oeuvres and desserts and music and dancing on Saturday nights.
Three decades later, the restaurant's regulars are the ones worried about being left behind. The Viennese Cafe plans to close after June 23, its 30th anniversary.
The restaurant will become the second location for the owners of the Farm & Fisherman in Philadelphia.
Marianne Andreotti - whose father died in 1997 - said she decided to sell after "a group of young men came in, had lunch . . . and made an offer."
With the 30-year mark on the horizon, the offer felt like "divine intervention," Andreotti said, sitting at a table in the restaurant last week.
The restaurant has three rooms: one with a pastry display case and wine for sale; another a dining room with white tablecloths and French posters lining the walls; and a third for dining and dancing, with the bar and piano under a canopy of branches covered in lights.
A crowd gathers in that room on weekends - a "mature age group," Andreotti said. "Everybody knows each other."
Their initial reaction to news of the sale, she said, was, "What are we supposed to do now?"
Andreotti - who was 22 and had just graduated from college when her father opened the restaurant - said the sale would let her and co-owner/chef Richard Marsh expand their catering business from another location. She also loved the concept pitched by the Farm & Fisherman, she said.
Chef Joshua Lawler, who runs the farm-to-table BYOB with his wife, Colleen, plans to open a tavern with 100 to 150 seats and a market featuring seasonal, from-scratch food.
"Jersey in general I thought was underserved as far as non-chain restaurants," said Lawler, who hopes to open the Cherry Hill location in the fall. "If you don't want to eat at TGI Fridays, what's the next level? There's not much that's not a steak house or Italian."
The proliferation of restaurants in Cherry Hill - there are about 200 establishments licensed to serve food, according to the township - has heightened the competition for customers, Marsh said.
"Corporate America definitely changed the pulse of the restaurant business - in Cherry Hill, anyway," Marsh said, with chain restaurants using the township as a testing ground for new concepts.
If the ventures fail, "they have the resources to reinvent themselves," Marsh said.
Marsh, who worked at the Viennese Cafe as a teenager and returned as chef in 2001, has periodically updated the menu "to be more current with the times," he said.
Small plates have been added to the menu, and items like sweetbreads and frog legs have disappeared.
Even with the changes, however, the restaurant has retained much of its old-world fare and feel.
"I think the world has changed more than they have," said Lauren Rosenfeld of Cherry Hill, a longtime patron.
Rosenfeld had her first date with her future husband at the Viennese Cafe 22 years ago. "Three years later to the day, I got engaged there," she said.
Other milestones marked at the restaurant include her son's bar mitzvah and her father's 85th birthday.
"At this point for us, it's tradition," she said. "It just feels so much like home."
That sentiment was echoed by Allan Kline of Medford, who first went to the restaurant in 1986, sharing lunch with clients when he worked for Subaru of America.
In recent years, Kline has become a regular on Friday nights. He and his wife join friends they made through the restaurant, and "we kind of take over the bar that night," he said. "Marianne will get up and do her Cher impression, which is fantastic."
Though businesses come and go, "this one bothers me," Kline said. "I hope the new owners don't change it too terribly much. It's a comfortable place to go."