I stopped blogging regularly when I took on The Warehouse. Leasing a commercial space and moving our food buying club out of my home was a giant leap of faith, but after having operated out of my home for about two years, the City of Portland informed me that I could not continue in a residential area. I was faced with the decision of shutting down or relocating to a commercial location that allows food distribution activities.
I chose to move so I could continue doing what I was doing. I wanted to keep getting good food for my family. I also really believe that people have the right to decide for themselves what they eat and how they go about obtaining it. Who says we have to shop in big chain grocery stores and super markets? I choose to believe we can make empowered decisions and become active participants in the food economy (vote with our forks!) instead of passively just accept the standard fare that’s being sold in supermarkets.
In May 2012, I signed a 5 year lease on an old building in the Brooklyn neighborhood in SE Portland. The vision was to build upon the food buying club’s popularity and create a shared space that would serve to connect, support, nourish and empower growing families who want to live sustainably and in community. The space I found was large and had many of the features I wanted for the food buying club, including a loading dock and a huge walk-in cooler. It also had a retail store front and offices that I thought could accommodate many different community oriented ventures. My friend Allison wanted to open a children’s and maternity resale shop, and I figured I could also operate a small coffee shop/community space.
To that end, I opened Warehouse Café, a coffee shop that serves high quality, direct trade coffee and local organic goodies. The plan was for the café to make enough money to support the space the food buying club takes up. However, things don’t always go according to plan.
The space came with its own set of challenges. It is not a coincidence that the space was so quickly dubbed “The Warehouse.” It came with a great deal of functional and cosmetic issues and had the look and feel of an old neglected warehouse when we moved in. There was exposed insulation hanging down, peeling paint, ugly office carpet glued down on top on ugly tile on top of painted concrete floors…. The place was a mess, but had tons of potential, I thought.
Because of limited funds, there was never a proper build-out of the space, but instead we have been working to improve the functionality and aesthetics of the space on an ongoing basis, as we’ve been able. It has very much been a DIY project that has slowly, but surely transformed the space and given it new life. However, one obvious thing that is left to do is the main entrance. This part of the space, which is the first thing that people see from the street is in desperate need of a face lift. Despite large store front glass windows, the interior gets next to no natural light. A narrow corridor leads from the front into the main dining area, which is unfortunately completely obstructed by awkwardly designed, outdated offices in the front. Many people who have since mustered up the courage to enter have told me they walked by many weeks before finally checking us out. The impression from the street is that the building houses offices and is private. This is definitely not the impression I wanted my new café to make!
The time has finally come for the front to be redone! This is very exciting! I want to widen that narrow corridor, so that light can enter and brighten up the space, and passers by will be able to see what a wonderful community resource has been created within and feel welcome to enter and partake in it all. I feel it is important to make the space beautiful and comfortable as well as functional. Our members and customers (who are mostly families with young children), and our hard working staff spend so much time in there. I have always envisioned a place that people would love to spend time in, want to come to with friends to hang out, stay to work, and enjoy food and drink.
I have already consulted with a contractor about the scope of the work, and have made plans for the renovations to begin this month. The contractor will work to widen the narrow corridor by appx 11 feet and remove a significant section of one of the front offices in order to open up the space. The ceiling height as you enter the main café area will go from a mere 7.5 feet in height to over 12 feet! Within the space, new “living room” style nooks will create cozy areas for families to spend time in. To conserve resources and create a unique look that echoes our DIY ethos, many salvaged and reclaimed materials, including reclaimed wood from bowling ball alleys, shipping pallets, mason jars and more, will be used. I also want to add life in the form of edible herb gardens and other potted plants.
Of course this all costs money, and our funds are still limited. Know Thy Food’s financial goals have always been to just break even, and the café has not yet become profitable. This is why I am asking for financial help with this project. I have created a Chip In page (and there is a widget on the right hand side bar) that documets the project and also lets supporters send donations immediately through PayPal. Any money raised will help to create a better environment and more comfortable atmosphere at The Warehouse that I hope will be enjoyed by many families for many many years to come.
Thank you very much for considering this project and for supporting local foods!