Q& A with Fort Collins Non-Profit Cafe Co-Founder Kathleen Baumgardner

Photo by April Whicker

Since November 2014, the Foco Cafe, a non-profit restaurant located at 225 Maple Street, has been providing healthy lunch options to the Fort Collins community.

People, regardless of their identity, place in life or financial status are able to come to the cafe Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. to enjoy a healthful meal made from local and organic ingredients.

Kathleen and Jeff Baumgardner are not owners of the Foco Cafe, but founders. Since opening, the cafe they have shared their story of the non-profit restaurant in their hometown and beyond.

Co-founder Kathleen Baumgardner poses at the counter of the Foco Cafe.

Q: How did you get your start?

A: We actually met someone here in town who started a non-profit, and it wasn’t food related at all. We had some conversations with her about why she did that. We were kind of at a crossroads about what to do next, and that lead to a conversation where my husband said ‘I think there should be non-profit restaurants.’ I had heard a story about a non-profit café in Denver. So I sent an email to them, and we went down there the very next weekend and sat in their dining room the entire time they were open. We just observed, asked questions, talked to people, and we started volunteering there. So then we would drive down to Denver to volunteer and on our way there and back we would do things like write our mission statement, write our vision and values and brainstorm about who we should meet with next. And that’s how we got started.

Q: What was it like sitting in that dining room the first day and watching everything going on?

A: We felt a real sense of community there and that was the draw for us. We talked to a father and daughter. The daughter was ten years old and it was a father-daughter outing day, and she had the choice of what she wanted to do and she chose to volunteer that day. It really struck us as wow what a wonderful thing to empower people to help their own community.

Q: How did you take that inspiration from volunteering at that café and bring it to Fort Collins?

A: We didn’t have restaurant experience. I never worked at a restaurant in my life. My husband had been a waiter for one year. So, it’s not as though this was our background, but we had a passion. So we went about scheduling meetings all across town. We met with non-profits. We met with restaurants and people in government. At the end of every meeting we would ask who else we should talk to about this and that lead to three to five more people. We stopped counting the number of meetings we had after 350. It’s interesting what happened out of it. It started a real snowball effect. People would start dropping by our house and leaving restaurant equipment. There were so many different connections by the time we were under construction and ultimately opened that it was incredible.

Staff member Steve Goerner and CSU freshman Mimi Razona do food prep at the Foco Cafe. Photo by Nicole Towne

Q: Tell me about opening on Thanksgiving day.

A: We had about 50 people show up that day, which was really awesome. It was fun. We even had someone drop off a bottle of champagne.

Q: How have you seen the Foco Café develop from day one?

A: We are in our second year now. The thing that surprised us the most in 2016 was to see people come forward with their own ideas and say ‘can you help us or host these ideas at the café?’ In August we introduced the Foco Freedge, and it is a refrigerator that lives outside when we are open and it is for people to drop off fresh fruits and vegetables that they are afraid that might go to waste. That refrigerator is free for anyone to take that food and put it to use. The idea is to reduce food waste. Then in November we saw a church youth group come forward and came up with the Kindness Cupboard. It’s a pantry for non-perishable foods and it’s available 24/7 outside. Now we’re in the midst of working with a student group at CSU to install a little outdoor library. All of these things have come from other people who had an idea. That’s been really amazing to see that progression of not just the feeding of lunches, but the empowering of people to help others in the community.

Photo by April Whicker

Q: What is a typically day like at the Foco Café?

A: My husband is our chef. He’s not a trained chef, but he makes an awesome lunch. He usually gets here between 6 a.m and 7 a.m. and starts working. He’s a volunteer. Then we have another staff member who will show up, Steven, on most days and he gets in here to start working with volunteers who will arrive at 9 a.m. We have three volunteer shifts. 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m and 3 p.m to 5 p.m. So the work in each of those shifts change based on what mode we are in at that time. Nine to 11 a.m. is a lot of preparation for the coming lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. is busing tables, and the beginning of clean up, hospitality. And then 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. is clean up. We serve anywhere between 65 and 90 meals a day. Those meals are either pay what people can, pay what they would normally pay, pay it forward or they can volunteer in exchange for their meal.

Q: Where do you get your food from?

A: We source a lot of our food from local farms and local businesses. A lot of our non-perishable foods come from the food Co-op in Old Town. We work with Quatrix Aquaponics to source our lettuce year around, and they are about five miles from year. We work with businesses such as Happy Lucky’s Tea House right here in Old Town for our ice tea. We have coffee that’s roasted locally. We are always working with local businesses as much as we can. We do get a weekly donation of items from Trader Joe’s. That is how we are able to, most weeks, have salmon on our menu. So like today, we have a salmon quinoa that has mushrooms and spinach in it, and it’s a beautiful dish. Being able to offer salmon is such an incredible thing because so many people can’t afford to have that in their diet on a regular basis.

Q: It sounds like you are here a lot. What keeps you going? What keeps you interested? What keeps you coming back?

A: I think that it has a lot to do with the people. We see incredible kindness everyday. This is not about money. This is about value. People have value to offer. So many people help us make this place run who have nearly nothing, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute and make a difference for other people. It’s that kind of community that is so special.

For more information about the Foco Cafe visit their site.