Community Matters Café to offer city views, locally sourced foods, unique mission

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Courtesy of Charlotte Rescue Mission

Sitting just along the edge of Uptown with an unbeatable view of Bank of America Stadium is Charlotte Rescue Mission’s newest extension project: Community Matters Café. Started with the subtle push of a $7,500 third place prize in a Seed20 competition in 2017 and a partnership with Community Matters Insurance Partners of Charlotte, the new café is slated to open at 821 W. 1st St. on April 9.

A 100-year-old spindle factory has been transformed with the help of Doerre Construction and an in-house designer with LS3P Associates Ltd. Earthy elements are combined with antique accents to create a space the community is enthusiastic about getting into.

“We have to keep our parking lot blocked off and our doors locked,” said communications and marketing specialist Rachel DiBattista. She added that people stop by every day, asking about their opening date, showing an excitement for the project housed just beside Rebound, the Charlotte Rescue Mission’s Men’s Program.

What makes this café unique is its mission and plan to vet and hire graduates of their four-month training and rehabilitation program. “Charlotte Rescue Mission is working to destigmatize recovery programs,” said Executive Chef Nick Kepp. “We want to restore hope to our graduates and to our community.”

Courtesy of Charlotte Rescue Mission

Kepp got his start at Fern after graduating from the Art Institute of Charlotte in 2012. He’s been honing his skills ever since and has fashioned the Community Matters Café’s menu after classic café fare, “all with quality in mind,” he said.

The café will operate with two components—grab-and-go, and full service. The first includes the coffee portion, which plans to roast their own beans, said Coffee Program Director Paula Elkins. Walking in the door, you’ll see a rustic wooden shelf filled with vintage kitchen utensils and plants, with café tables and a few more casual seating areas. Here you’ll be able to grab a quick bite, like a slider version of the restaurant’s breakfast sandwich, which Kepp said will make it easy on those who need to get in and out quickly.

Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kristin Kelly Blinson loves their children’s corner. “We wanted parents to be able to come in for a cup of coffee and sit while their kids have something to do,” Blinson said. This is in line with the mission of creating a gathering space for the community.

Courtesy of Charlotte Rescue Mission

Down a flight of four stairs or a trip down a ramp is Kepp’s full-service restaurant, with wooden booths lining walls that are covered in abstract art created by Rebound Men’s Program and Dove’s Nest Women’s Program residents. This restaurant, in addition to its breakfast sandwich, will have a locally sourced menu, complete with sweet potato pancakes, pimento grit fritters (which Kepp said he sees “flying out the doors,” based on early feedback), and a cranberry-and-feta-stuffed turkey burger on a house-made brioche bun.

Pastry Chef Ashley Anna Tuttle will execute all the baking needs of the café, from cookie sandwiches and biscotti to brioche, country loaf and hearty whole grain breads. Tuttle got her start in Denver and moved to Charlotte in 2018, where both she and Kepp are members of the Piedmont Culinary Guild. 

Courtesy of Charlotte Rescue Mission

Jenny Villapando, formerly from The Asbury, is coming on board as the concept’s general manager, tying it all together as what Kepp calls a “Dream Team” of Charlotte-area food and beverage professionals. DiBattista said not to expect an alcohol selection, however, even as the space potentially expands to dinner service. “We want to have respect for our students coming from our recovery programs,” she said.

This 5500-square-foot space can seat 212 and is complete with a meeting room closed off by green-painted barn doors, with mason jar light fixtures hanging from a wood plank ceiling. With a few finishing touches, the space will be ready for its ribbon cutting April 7 from 2-4 p.m., an event that is free and open to the public.

“We want an avenue for empowering our students through great coffee, growing people skills, excellent customer service skills,” said Elkins, who has been in the coffee industry for 11 years. “Coffee is just the byproduct. The mission of this organization is why I’m here.”

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