Some of the best ideas are hatched while sharing a local beer with friends. FoCo Café founders Jeff and Kathleen Baumgardner found that to be the case in 2013 while discussing the amazing work being done by local nonprofits in Fort Collins. That led Jeff to mention that he thought nonprofit cafes should exist. Kathleen replied that she had recently seen a news story about one in Denver – SAME Café. At the time, both were very involved in their professions. Jeff, as a teacher with a background in medicine and agricultural/food research. He also had a passion for cooking. Kathleen, a director of communications at Colorado State University (CSU), was managing print, web, social media, and outreach efforts for the school. They wanted to combine their experiences and passions into a setting that offered amazing food, a commitment to service, and a place where building community for all as its focus.
The community support was quickly apparent. Jeff and Kathleen soon found their garage full of donated kitchen equipment and cafe chairs; boxes of dishes would appear on their front porch; e-mails came in from many people eager to volunteer; college students began working on key projects; professionals were offering valuable services at no cost. Soon, this pay-what-you-can cafe became a reality, with the FoCo Café opening on Thanksgiving Day in 2014.
In its first full year of operation (2015), FoCo Café’s doors stayed open due to donations in exchange for meals. For the first five months, we remained an entirely volunteer organization. In order to maintain quality and consistency of meals and experience, we introduced a modest budget for payroll, slowly adding our three paid positions. Our focus in 2016 was building long-term sustainability as we expanded services to our community. We expanded hours for our operations manager, began offering employee benefits, transitioned our volunteer executive director position to a paid position, and introduced new initiatives that have had great impact.
Also in 2015, a new summer kids’ breakfast program, “Kids Feeding Kids,” was launched with the goal of serving food insecure kids during the summer. They also spread the word about nonprofit cafes through a TEDx presentation and via other outreach programs. Additionally, with the help of community members, several high-impact resources were created that are used every day: The Giving Tree, FoCo Freedge, and The Kindness Cupboard. These resources, with a “give and receive” concept, provide nonperishable foods, fresh produce, and basic need items for all community members.
“Since 2014, the Cafe has served over 80,000 meals, surpassing our wildest dreams, recounted the Baumgardners. “We have seen that food has the power to bridge barriers constructed by society and bring people together because participating in community fills a need as basic as that of food. The need for connection is incredibly important to body and soul. This is incredibly important to everyone associated with FoCo Café.”
In 2017, the Baumgardners decided to retire to Hawaii and turned the reins for the Café over to their intern, Mallory Garneau. Mallory had joined FoCo Cafe in August 2016 as an intern and became executive director in June 2017 after graduating with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from CSU. She currently oversees all of the Café operations.