Cafes with a Cause: Eat, drink, do good next time you're on the road

East Van Roaster's Shelley Bolton

Need an excuse to indulge in a cup of Mayan-spiced drinking chocolate, a buttery scone or a smoked turkey sandwich on homemade ciabatta? 

Look no further than the nearest cafe with a cause, non-profit social enterprises where comfort food goes full circle, providing  sustenance to customers and survival skills to people in need. 

Whether the mission is job training for homeless youth, help for women recovering from addictions, or fostering cross-cultural connections, these non-profits set a high bar when it comes to quality food and drinks.

Here's a half-dozen worth the drive the next time your travels take you on the road:  

East Van Roasters, 319 Carrall St., Vancouver, B.C. 

Mission: Provides jobs, training and services for residents of the Rainier Hotel, a women's supportive housing project run by Portland Hotel Society, a Canadian social services agency helping  downtown Vancouver's Eastside homeless and people suffering from addictions and mental illness.

What to expect: Hand-made gourmet chocolates in flavors such as Black Hawaiian sea salt; honey-caramel brownies; espresso drinks and hot chocolate made from imported fair-trade beans roasted on-site, and served in a bright cafe decorated with wooden tables and burlap sacks. 

East Van's hand-made chocolates

Why chocolate-making as a social enterprise?

"It's dignified employment,'' says the agency's Shelley Bolton. "It's something that people can feel proud to come in here and do everyday.''

East Van makes its chocolates once a week and usually sells out. Vancouver's top chefs are among its best customers. "If you give people dignity and meaningful work," says Bolton, "they will heal themselves.''

FareStart's restaurant in downtown Seattle

FareStart, 700 Virginia St., Seattle, Washington 

Mission: Operates a downtown restaurant providing culinary job-training for homeless and disadvantaged adults and a cafe in Seattle's Rainier Valley neighborhood with a barista and education program for homeless youth. In business since 1992, FareStart graduated 110 adults and 60 youths in 2013.

What to expectMake a reservation for lunch or dinner the next time you're in town, and not only will you be doing a good deed - Fare Start also provides meals to area shelters, schools and low-income day-are centers -   you'll be eating well from a menu that includes roasted beet salads, blackened salmon sandwiches and a signature tomato-basil soup. Every Thursday is "Guest Chef Night'' when a local Seattle chef works with students to prepare a $29.95 three-course meal. Volunteers act as servers, and all revenues and tips go directly to support the training programs.

"We try and set the bar pretty high,'' says FareStart's Christina Starr. "It's always a balance between providing a great training opportunity for our students, and providing something to the public that will keep them coming back."

FareStart students practice their knife skills 

Blue Sky Bakery and Café, 3720 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL.

Mission: Provides a 12-week job training program and job placement for homeless and at-risk youths ages 16-24 in Chicago's North Center neighborhood. 

What to expect: Scones, cupcakes, pies, black bean burgers, quiche etc., made from scratch in a kitchen where the young bakers are visible from a 30-seat cafe furnished with antiques and repurposed furniture. 

Executive director Lisa Thompson recalls the nurturing feeling she had a child growing up with a single mother who baked everything from scratch.

 "I thought it was something that could engage teenagers pretty quickly.''

Comfort food at Blue Sky Bakery

Homegirl Café, 130 W. Bruno St., Los Angeles, CA.

Mission: Restaurant and culinary arts training for at-risk former gang-involved women, one of six social enterprises run by Homeboy Industries, a non-profit founded by Jesuit priest Greg Boyle. 

What to expect:  Healthy, Latino-influenced breakfast, lunch and Saturday brunch served from a Chinatown location. Inventive riffs on traditional tacos (with the option of substituting a nopal cactus leaf for a tortilla) include pork with apple-tomatillo slaw and cilantro; red mole chicken spiked with habanero pickled onions; and salmon with jalapeño pesto. Many dishes are prepared with   produce grown on Homeboy mini-farms where trainees learn about  organic food production. Baked goods come from sister-enterprise Homeboy Bakery.

Cup O'Karma, 1710 W. Southern Ave., Mesa, AZ. and 22 S Delaware St., Chandler, AZ. 

Misson: Provides housing and support services for abused and battered women turned away by other shelters due to substance abuse and other problems. A project of the National Advocacy and Training Network, formed in 2002 by Monalou Callery, a survivor of domestic abuse, Cup O' Karma operates its Mesa location from a coffee shop donated by Luis Prado, the former owner.  A second location opened recently in the Chandler Public Library. 

What to expect: Community center atmosphere with open mic  and live comedy at the Mesa location. On the menu are fruit  smoothies, snacks, teas and cold-brewed espresso. Sandwiches, pies, chocolate croissants, crepes etc. are available at the Chandler Library. 
The agency shelters women in four homes, one that it owns and three that it leases.

"Our hope is to buy a small apartment building where we can offer permanent housing," says Callery. The cafes offers the opportunity "to really engage people in the community,'' the kind of people, that if it weren't for a cup of coffee, "would never have crossed paths with a non-profit catering to abused women."

Conflict Kitchen, 221 Schenley Dr., Pittsburgh, PA.

Mission: Slightly different in that the focus is not on job-training, but definitely a cafe with a cause. The three-year-old Conflict Kitchen serves food from countries with which the United States is in conflict, rotating menus every few months, and sponsoring events and discussions on current geopolitical issues.

What to expect: Ethnic take-out served from a stand with sidewalk tables across from the Pittsburgh Public Library. Average cost of a meal is around $7. The current menu features Afghan specialities such as braised pumpkin with yogurt sauce and mint and lamb kabobs. A recent Ukrainian-inspired lunch drew 70 people who came to hear a talk on Ukrainian hip-hop. Past themes focused on Cuba and North Korea. Next up: Venezuela and possibly Palestine. 

"Food is the way in which a way a lot of cultures introduce themselves to American communities,'' says co-founder Jon Rubin, a professor of socially and engaged public art at Carnegie Mellon University. "It's a chance for us to present a different narrative to what most people are getting in the mainstream media.''

Drinking and eating isn't the only way to enjoy your travels and do a good deed. Consider the Kimpton Hotel chain's  "Reserve and Preserve'' program that supports the national Trust for Public Land.

What to expect: $10 off the daily room rate donated to the Trust for Public Land plus a 15 percent discount for each night's stay. Type TPL in the rate code box when booking online. Click here for details.  Hotel staffers are encouraged to come up with ideas for charitable promotions. The staff at the RiverPlace in Portland, Oregon recently picked the Oregon Humane Society to benefit from a $1 "Hair of the Dog'' cocktail served in the bar at the Three Degrees restaurant. 

1 comment:

  1. I must admit that the word coffee brought me here. And it didn’t disappoint, these all look great. I hope to visit a few soon.