This social enterprise for the Rockford Rescue Mission is about far more than a great cup of coffee and sandwich. Discover how every purchase helps your neighbors.
You can pick up a sandwich or cup of coffee from any old place, but when was the last time that sandwich or coffee actually changed someone’s life?
Restoration Café, 625 W. State St., Rockford, is in the business of changing lives daily, while serving up exclusive blend coffees and tasty food. The atmosphere is cozy and friendly, with wireless Internet, a flat-screen TV and a well-tuned piano in the corner. On the first Friday of every month, the café stays open in the evening for musical performances. Original artwork is often on display.
As part of the residential Life Recovery Program of Rockford Rescue Mission, the café is run by paid supervisors, volunteers and a team of residents who are recovering from various problems, like addictions or domestic violence. Every dollar of profit goes back to the mission, headquartered just across the street.
The barista menu includes fair trade gourmet coffees, espressos, lattes and cappuccinos, plus specialties like the “snickerdoodle” – made with caramel, hazelnut and Ghirardelli chocolate syrups. The coffees are roasted by a Rockford distributor. There are icy frappes in flavors like java chip or frozen hot chocolate, and Two Leaves and a Bud brand teas.
The sandwich menu includes cold favorites like turkey or chicken salad on croissant, as well as hot ones like Italian beef on a French baguette with a side of au jus, or the pulled pork topped with Muenster cheese and shredded pickle on a ciabatta roll.
There are fresh salads and soups, and you can order your soup in a bread bowl. Baked potatoes can be stuffed with vegetables, chili (in season) or pulled pork, and desserts include cheesecakes, assorted pies, cookies and cupcakes. Carry-out is available and there’s a room for special events.
Most diners have no idea the café is operated by the Rescue Mission, where local homeless people daily are fed and provided with crisis housing.
“I think probably 50 percent of employees downtown don’t know this is here or what we look like,” says Melanie Haas, a paid staff supervisor.
The café provides hands-on experience in culinary arts, management, barista service, facilities/equipment maintenance and hospitality/customer service.
A new team of residents enters training every few months, as the experienced team returns to the Rescue Mission for transition into other stages of the program, before moving on to jobs around the city.
“Even if they don’t go back into food service, our residents gain practice being in front of a customer, a leader, anyone,” says Haas. “They’re back in the workforce, so it’s a huge opportunity.”
The café opened in 2009, in a former car dealership that most recently held an urban ministry. When the ministry moved elsewhere, Rescue Mission Director Sherry Pitney searched for a way fill the space and raise the mission’s visibility downtown. She knew from surveys that her residents wanted vocational training, especially in culinary skills. She researched and visited other missions in larger cities, where rehab programs operated family diners and catering crews. When she met a coffee importer, an idea was born.
As the café came together, local companies donated fixtures, flooring, tables and architectural decor. With rich colors and wood stains, ample windows and brightly colored artwork, the building is cozy and inviting, and the café enjoys a following of regular customers that includes judges, lawyers, police officers, clerks and other personnel from the nearby justice center and courthouse. Because of the Rescue Mission’s religious foundation, the café also is a favorite place for church people to gather.
The space carries a sense of restoration, much like the people in residence at the mission.
“They’re so full of shame and guilt,” says Pitney. “For someone to say, ‘You’re really good at that,’ or, even if it’s washing a dish, ‘Boy you did a good job,’ that gives them – beyond the training environment – the affirmation to know they’re somebody, they’re loved, and they can succeed at something.”
All that for a sandwich and some coffee.
Restoration Café is open Mon.-Fri. 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m.