Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eat Well. Do Good.

Ally enjoying her turkey sandwich, and that's my modified Monte Cristo sandwich with blackberry preserves above.

The Eating Well has been open for the last two weeks or so, and the food is amazingly good! Even Ally, my 6-year-old likes it, and for her, picky eating is like an art form. Here is a brief version of the long history of this cafe:

In 2007, Harmony Health Family Resource Center got a grant from the California Endowment to develop three "social enterprises"--businesses that will earn income to help sustain Harmony Health FRC's programs. At that time, we did a lot of research to figure out what kinds of businesses the community needed and wanted and which could be viable revenue sources. We held focus groups, ran informal surveys, had community discussions, talked to business and community leaders, etc. We seriously explored the idea of developing a "business incubator" and other ideas, but we ultimately settled on the idea of a cafe as our core social business, since it promised to advance a number of our goals. A cafe, we felt, could promote: 1. Healthy eating, since many of our clients have ready access to junk food and convenience store fare, but not much else (and many have the health problems--like obesity--to show for it). 2. Positive community interaction and engagement, since we envision an open, lively eatery, with wi-fi access (to help attract students, faculty, military personnel, etc.), a shaded outdoor eating area and container garden, and space for community meetings and gatherings during the evening hours. 3. Local food (and walkability)--the cafe's storefront is in a strip mall it shares with Harmony Health Family Resource Center, Harmony Health Clinic, Harmony Health Birthing Center, and a laundromat, so customers/clients/staff at these establishments can now eat at The Eating Well, instead of driving across town for a burger. Also, the cafe is trying to source most of its produce from local growers, and will attempt to encourage Air Force personnel and the Yuba College community (both of which are relatively nearby) to dine closer to home as well. The cafe has ample parking, but the more people who simply stroll over to eat or hang out, the better.

Erica (center) is one of the original teen moms who was trained at the Eating Well, and she did so well in the class, she became a trainer herself, and is now a manager of The Eating Well.

The original business plan that was developed for the cafe did not serve its purpose, but the Yuba Sutter Small Business Development Center very generously helped us to rewrite and implement the plan. Then, the Executive Director of Harmony Health (who, by the way, is Rachel Farrell, the real force of nature behind Harmony Health FRC--and all the other Harmony enterprises, both for profit and nonprofit--and who is running for the Yuba County Board of Supervisors, District 1. More about her in later posts, I hope.) wrote and got an amazing grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (over $200K, though this is not entirely apparent in the linked document) to use the cafe as a training center for at-risk youth (particularly teen moms), and to develop an on site childcare co-op at the cafe (so the teen mom staff would be able to care for their children while still working, and so customers of the cafe/clinic/laundromat/birthing center could have a place for their children). So before opening to the public, the cafe was a training site for youth, where after 6-weeks of classes, they received their ServSafe certificates. The students would serve lunch to live customers (mainly clinic staff) on Thursdays.

As that training program is winding down, Mike Mahler has stepped up to become the chef/manager of The Eating Well, and to shepherd it from a training site to a full-service, experimental, nonprofit, healthy-eating, environment-defending, economy-revitalizing, community-building, local-food-promoting, eatery. Mike used to own Mahler's in Marysville, which is now The Brick, an iconic coffeehouse and meeting place for the movers and shakers of Yuba County. He had to give up that business for personal reasons, but he is taking on The Eating Well project with gusto and putting in lots of his own money and time. I wanted to include a picture of him, but he moves too fast for my cell phone camera to capture a suitable image!

So once we have olive oil to sell, we hope to use the cafe as one of the vending outlets. The bottles of oil should make nice decoration for the cafe, and we hope to include other locally produced retail food products, like honey, preserves, etc. I'm still not really authorized to say so, but the construction company that is proposing to donate the olives to us is Teichert Construction, and they have 20,000 acres of agricultural land that they manage. They told us that last year alone they had to waste 700 tons of produce from their agricultural holdings (they hold land for mining, but when it is not being mined, they grow crops on it, or in any case don't remove crops already growing there, which is why they have an olive orchard in the Yuba Goldfields). And we are talking about having them donate some of these other crops--peaches, rice, etc.--to Harmony Health FRC so we can reduce our food prices at the cafe, and also create other retail food products (e.g., dried fruit; tapenade; etc.). Teichert is a union shop, they are involved in regional efforts to reduce sprawl, and they are interested in exploring biomass as an energy source for Yuba County, so I am proud of Harmony Health FRC's burgeoning relationship with them. I hope to have our partnership officially approved within the next few weeks.

So if you find yourself on or near North Beale Road, come on into The Eating Well (1908 N. Beale, Suite B, 530-742-5908 for phone takeout/catering orders). Eat well. Do Good.

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