A combination of the Rockford Rescue Mission’s cafe and Remade shop, this new addition in downtown Rockford continues the Mission’s work with personal recovery.
For 56 years, Rockford Rescue Mission has helped people experiencing great physical and emotional desperation, be it homelessness, hunger or addiction. This community resource has grown into a place where people can find clothing, tutoring, creative outlets and even healthcare.
The Mission receives no government funding, meaning it survives solely on private donations and many volunteers. Thanks to such selfless workhorses, the Mission is unveiling a new venture in 2020: the opening of Nettie’s Mercantile Cafe.
“It’s a combination of the former Restoration Cafe and Remade shop,” explains Sherry Pitney, the Mission’s CEO. Economically, combining the shops made sense to her. Remade was doing well, but the store had sporadic business hours, and Restoration Cafe’s revenue had been dropping off due to a surge of downtown restaurant options.
But additionally, in a spiritual sense, combining the shops “felt right” to Pitney.
“I have a son who lives in the Branson, Mo., area, and we went to this place called Lilliehobbs Mercantile,” Pitney recalls. “You just felt this really good vibe the minute you walked in the door. It was a ‘Hey, how y’all doing? What can I help you with?’ kind of thing. And it was just an eclectic mix of really incredible pastries and unique retail. I just came back from that trip and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”
It took quite a bit of brainstorming for Pitney to name Nettie’s. She wanted something catchy that honored the Pitney family legacy, since they had started the Mission in the first place.
After speaking with relatives, Pitney learned more about Nettie Golden White Pitney – her father-in-law’s mother. She was a homemaker who loved to bake, and she, too, had a heart for mission work. After she died in the mid-1980s, Nettie’s farmland became a campground for church groups to enjoy.
“This is a way for her story to live on,” Pitney says. “Her legacy is alive in the Mission.”
Nettie’s will feature coffee and baked goods – prepared by people in the Mission’s vocational training program – plus art pieces and restored furniture, all created by volunteers and people in the Mission’s recovery program. So, customers aren’t just buying a delicious cup of coffee or a fabulous bench. They’re supporting the transformation of the addicted and the homeless.
“I think a big piece of it is 100% of the proceeds from Nettie’s goes directly back to the Rockford Rescue Mission,” says Crystal Savage, the Mission’s director of marketing and communications. “That’s just huge, because it enables us to provide free, long-term treatment to people in the area.”
One volunteer, Corene Prah, has spent countless hours getting Nettie’s ready for customers. It all started last year, when her husband bought a couch from Remade.
“While he was in there, he learned the story about the Mission,” Prah explains. “So, he and I came for a tour of the entire Mission – Sherry gives them once a month – and afterwards there was just something weighing heavy on my heart. I didn’t know what it was, or how I could fit in, but I reached out to Sherry and just asked her to meet.”
Prah would have been happy just to serve food in the Mission’s meal program, but Pitney had other ideas.
“She sent me her resume, and I couldn’t believe it,” Pitney recalls. “She had been the vice president of finance for Kohl’s department store. She’s been such a blessing to us.”
Before retiring in 2015, Prah had been in charge of the financial operations for every Kohl’s store nationwide. After she and her husband moved to Rockford in 2018 so he could start a new job as a vice president of Mercyhealth, Prah felt like she needed her own project.
She finally found one after meeting with Pitney – getting Nettie’s off the ground.
“Volunteering has been a blessing to me. It really has,” she says. “It didn’t feel right to put a price on it. You know, I come from a corporate background, but the Mission doesn’t operate like that. I’ve learned over the past few months to relax a little bit and have faith that things will get done. I’m the one who has got the blessing here. That’s how I see it.”
To stay informed on the opening of Nettie’s Mercantile Cafe, visit rockfordrescuemission.com or follow Nettie’s on Facebook and Instagram.