Since opening its doors on Dec. 4, 2013, the popular West Walnut Street cafe, “where everyone eats and works if they need to,” has served more than 50,000 people, including more than 10,000 diners who have worked at the cafe to pay for their meals and more than 1,300 children who were served through its summer Kids Eat Free program.
“In spite of these meals being provided at no cost, we have been able to remain in the black and we have no debt,” One ACRE Cafe Executive Director Jan Orchard said. “That’s an incredible accomplishment and one to be celebrated as we begin our fourth year.”
Founded by Orchard, her son, Bryan, and a small band of friends and supporters who shared their dream of creating “A Community Restaurant for Everyone,” the cafe was established to meet three fundamental goals — to address the issue of hunger in the community, to enhance the work skills, experience and employability of those who work at the cafe in exchange for their meals, and to create a sense of community for everyone who came through its doors.
From the cafe’s first fundraiser until today, Orchard said, the community’s support for One ACRE has been unfailing. Don and Holly Johnson, who opened their building and also invested their time and financial assistance in the cafe, are at the top of the list of the people the cafe thanks for its success; followed closely by large group of area business leaders who eat at the cafe, hold their functions there and likewise invest their time and financial support.
“Without them and without the Johnson City community as a whole, we might have failed,” Orchard said. “We are endlessly grateful for the hands-up attitude of our community, including all the volunteers who have given countless hours of their time to nurture and serve others.”
Looking ahead to 2017, Orchard said, “It is time to think about the future and the next phase of the cafe.”
With only herself and three employees, including two key staffers who have been with One ACRE from its beginning, along with Chef Amy Stout, who came up through One ACRE’s work training co-op program, the transition and personal development of cafe’s leadership is already in the works.
Michelle Watts, the former cafe manager, was recently promoted to assistant executive director and Mark Setzer, who began work at the cafe as a volunteer when the building was still under renovation and was brought on staff soon after its opening, has been named cafe assistant.
“We’re very proud of those who have developed into leaders within the cafe and are in position to take them into the next phase of growth and development,” Orchard said.
“I am grateful that I was giving the privilege of being the startup person and in 2017 I will be transitioning into a new role as mentor of our new leader, Michelle Watts ... ”
As Watts trains and becomes more experienced in the intricacies of nonprofit administration, Orchard said someone new may be fill her former position as cafe manager.
But first there are the holidays to celebrate. A lineup of events will be held at the cafe beginning Friday, Nov. 11, with a Veterans Eat Free Veterans Day celebration.
On Nov. 22, there will be a free community meal to show appreciation and share some Thanksgiving fellowship with the cafe’s customers, volunteers and supporters.
On Dec. 3 One ACRE will open for a special Saturday lunch to allow its customers to view the Johnson City Christmas Parade from its row of big bay windows as it travels down West Walnut Street.
One the evening of Dec. 6, Ed Snoderly will perform his second benefit dinner concert at the cafe.
And on Dec. 23, the cafe will invite the community in for a free Christmas community meal.
Orchard said, “As the year comes to a close we would like to thank all of Johnson City and the surrounding areas for their support through volunteering, dining and donating to the cafe. You have made this a wonderful resource for your community.”
Email Sue Guinn Legg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.