FoCo Cafe Chef Jarrett Parten removes muffins

FoCo Cafe

Serving up healthy food with a side of hope

By Kathy Hayes

Everyone who eats at the pay-what-you-can FoCo Cafe receives a tiny, printed inspirational quote with their meal:

  • “If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.” – Buddha
  • “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf
  • “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

The sayings epitomize the nonprofit cafe’s mission: to build community by providing tasty and nutritious meals with dignity to the people of Fort Collins, regardless of their ability to pay, while using local, organic, and sustainably grown ingredients. Meals are served on a donation basis, which can be paid in cash or in time and talent as a cafe volunteer.  

Each day the cafe offers fresh homemade lunches and opportunities to participate in the community in ways that lift people up and offer hope. Diners of all means and from all walks of life are welcome. “It truly is a community cafe, a place for everybody,” says Pam Autio, FoCo Cafe interim board chairwoman.

Jeff and Kathleen Baumgardner opened FoCo Cafe—it stands for “Feeding Our Community Ourselves”—on Thanksgiving Day 2014, after securing communitywide support and donations. Their goal: create a place that would offer people a seat at the table to eat nourishing foods and work together to solve our community’s hunger issue.

In 2017, the Baumgardners retired, and Mallory Garneau, a former intern and Colorado State University graduate, became executive director.

Since then, FoCo Cafe has partnered with The Growing Project to create an on-site community garden that provides food for the cafe and education and meaningful work for the community; added a greeter stand to welcome patrons and explain how the cafe works; and ramped up its catering and space rental, with different groups using the cafe nearly every night.

Soon to launch is a Work to Ride program that will allow volunteers working 20 hours to earn a recycled bike.

Free resources outside the cafe are available 24/7 for anyone in need: FoCo Freedge (donated fresh produce and breads), a library, a hydration station to refill water bottles, the Kindness Cupboard (donated nonperishable food items), and the Giving Tree (baby wipes, toothbrushes, and other consumables).

Only a third of the cafe’s revenue comes from what people pay for their meals. Last fall, the cafe   launched a sustaining membership program, Faces of FoCo Cafe. Members donate anywhere from $10-$300 a month to ensure the cafe has a stable income.  

“We see the growth of this program as our path toward long-term sustainability,” says Garneau. She hopes to increase membership from 150 to 200 before the end of the year.

This fall, FoCo Cafe will serve its 100,000th meal and celebrate its 5-year anniversary.

The cafe has had a profound impact on the people who engage with it. A homeless woman with a beautiful voice spent a summer providing live music for patrons in exchange for her meals. She collected the little quotes that came with her lunch each day. Eventually, she landed a job and a place to live. She created a piece of artwork that now hangs inside the café. It includes the quotes that had given her hope, and a handwritten note: “I saved these because you saved me.”

“Everybody has something to offer,” says Garneau. “The food is just a catalyst.”

Volunteer fococafe.org/volunteer
Visit FoCo Cafe
225 Maple St.
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Open on Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and MLK Day
fococafe.org
Daily menu on Facebook @FoCoCafe