Foco Cafe opened its doors in Fort Collins for the first time on Thanksgiving. For some of the forty individuals who had lunch there that day, it may have been their only opportunity for a warm meal of the day. The restaurant is a non-profit, pay-what you can eatery, serving lunch daily to anyone, regardless if they can pay.
If that sounds familiar, it's because Foco Cafe is a partner of Denver's SAME (So All May Eat) Cafe, which has been open for eight years, serving 115,000 meals to the community during that time. Kathleen and Jeff Baumgardner started volunteering at SAME Cafe, and began looking for a similar effort in their hometown of Fort Collins. "We did hundreds of meetings; we thought we would find someone with the same idea, and that was not the case," Kathleen says. "So we thought, 'It is up to us.'"
Co-Founder Kathleen Baumgardner (right), talks with a volunteer at the Foco Cafe.
The new restaurant is 100 percent volunteer-run and payment varies depending on a diner's situation. At lunch, you can pay what you would normally pay for a restaurant lunch, donate more and pay-it-forward so that someone else can eat, pay what you can or pay nothing and donate time and talent to Foco Cafe. "It changes daily, so it's exciting and a learning process every day," Kathleen says. "It's our opportunity to share the joy of cooking, and also the importance of it."
Local food plays an important role at the restaurant; most of the ingredients used are from local farms. "A dollar invested in farming multiplies sevenfold and stays in the community," Kathleen says. "We believe it is really important to support local farming community.
On Saturday, Foco Cafe served a pumpkin apple soup with ingredients from Laughing Buck Farm and broccoli leek potato soup with ingredients from Native Hill Farm. Some of the fresh produce, meat and dairy products are donated, and some are purchased.
Volunteers get the dining room ready for lunch.
The community has come together for the Foco Cafe in big ways. Virtually all of the building costs, land, handiwork, tables, chairs, lights, speakers, silverware, cooking supplies, appliances, marketing and creative services have been donated. The tables were donated by a women's juvenile detention center, and the words "offenders must face officer station" were sanded off by Colorado State University students. The chairs were donated by a CSU sorority. The lights, menu boards and sound speakers were donated by restaurants in Fort Collins that had upgraded.
Menu boards explain how Foco Cafe works; they were donated by Conversketch Visual Facilitation & Graphic Recording.
Dozens of local companies have made the Foco Cafe their "organization of the quarter," and the co-founders have been given grants and community donation. The Baumgardners, who have been working on the Foco Cafe for two and a half years, gained much of their community support after Kathleen did a TEDxCSU talk titled "Tale of Community."
SAME Cafe was a huge believer in the Foco Cafe, helping with planning and providing advice when needed. SAME Cafe is a leader in the non-profit restaurant scene, and the Foco Cafe was able to build support in Fort Collins by using SAME Cafe's success story. "We tried to community-build to see what would happen; if we were going to start a community cafe like this we needed the community support," Kathleen says. And come together, they did.
"I think one of the big things that we've learned is never be afraid to do something good for your community," she adds. "As long as you go out there and engage with the community through the process, it will take off after a while."
The Foco Cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 225 Maple Street, Fort Collins. The organization is accepting both donations and volunteers on the fococafe.org; there's also a Facebook page. And you can find Foco Cafe on Twitter, too.
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