Imagine a place where you could go for a fresh, healthy meal six days a week. What if that same place would not judge or force you to leave if you couldn’t pay for that meal? Now imagine that this wondrous place is not your grandmother’s house, but an unassuming café at 225 Maple Street in Fort Collins. It exists in our town, it’s operating and it’s called the FoCo Café. Almost three years of planning, fundraising and dreaming has finally become a reality. They want to serve you, and in turn, help serve our community.

FoCo may be an affectionate shorthand notation for Fort Collins, but in this instance, it also stands for Feeding Our Community Ourselves, and that is exactly what this restaurant does.

The initial stages of the community café arose from discussions with friends about the wonderful work being done by local nonprofits. Feeling the need for a non-profit café, co-founders, Jeff and Kathleen Baumgardner, wanted to combine local efforts into a restaurant-style setting that offered amazingly healthy food and had a commitment to service—and, at it’s core, built community for everyone.

And so it started. Extensive research began to determine the need in Fort Collins. Everyone in town was talking about this wild idea. Months later, the Baumgardners were receiving donations of kitchen equipment, chairs, and dishes, and emails from droves of people wanting to get involved and volunteer in any way they were needed. All of this helped push the vision forward and into something tangible, with a successful opening on Thanksgiving Day in 2014

As the first non-profit restaurant in Fort Collins, patrons set the price for cafe cuisine in this pay-what-you-can setting. There is no cash register, just a donation box on the counter. Cash, checks and credit cards are all accepted.

It is the intent of the FoCo Café is to build a healthy community. They have built their concept on the following values:

• Every human innately has dignity and should be treated as such.

• Every duty, volunteer or otherwise, has value.

• Participating in a community nourishes the soul.

• Everyone deserves to eat nutritional food.

• All people need a hand up at some point(s) in their lives.

The Café’s mission is to build community by providing nutritious and delicious meals to the people of Fort Collins regardless of their ability to pay while using mostly local ingredients. Patrons who cannot afford their meal are asked for a trade of services and time to assist with the Café in any way they can. Those who can give more are encouraged to pay it forward.

The FoCo Café strives to use mostly local, organic and sustainably grown ingredients. This is challenging with the ever-changing daily menu that tries to satisfy various dietary restrictions. “Creating fresh, small-batch meals each day with a changing menu takes a lot of time,” says Executive Director Kathleen Baumgardner. “Our volunteers make it fun and our model allows us to try recipes that use the produce that is in season. Right now, we are cooking up beautiful meals with turnips, beets and parsnips!”

But the FoCo Café is not just the product of the Baumgardners’ efforts. The entire community has donated time and talent over several years to make this happen. Every summer the Café has a Bike-In Music Festival, which is their largest annual fundraiser. Held on a local farm, the music festival brings in a nice variety of local musical acts to a casual outdoor setting. Live dessert auctions, t-shirt sales and dancing are all part of the day’s festivities. The 2015 Bike-in Music Festival will be held on July 19 at The Shire CSA Farm.

The inside of the Café is an excellent setting for a lunch business meeting, family day or a solo meal; they also make the space available for late afternoon meetings with advanced notification. Currently, the historic building turned non-profit restaurant at 225 Maple contains an old-fashioned open freight elevator. Café partners would love to use the elevator in a creative way. Any ideas? FoCo Café can be found on Facebook, Twitter and they even have their own YouTube channel. Comments, suggestions and picture sharing are more than welcome.

How is the model fairing in their first months? “We’ve only been operating for two months, but so far, we’re doing well financially. Any extra money we might see will be used for needed equipment and invested in high quality local ingredients. In the future, we will be looking to add educational programming as well,” says Baumgardner. She has a wish list for the Café. “We would love to add a walk-in freezer by the next harvest so we can store more local produce for use next winter.”

“Seeing the Café become a reality has been very exciting,” says Baumgardner. “The Café was built through the hard work and generosity of our community. That is empowering and fulfilling.”

FoCo Café’s website, www.fococafe.org, is easy to navigate for a current menu, donation button and volunteering opportunities. Signing up for their E-newsletter is the most convenient way to get the latest dish on Café happenings. After all, the best way to enjoy your community is to give back. The FoCo Café does just that and provides an opportunity for others to do so as well.

The Baumgardners would like to see the Café continue to build community and draw people in from all walks of life. “We want it to be a space where all members of our community feel comfortable and feel part of something bigger than themselves.”

Malini Bartels is a freelance writer, chef, mother, radio host and actress living the good life in Fort Collins. She is also a board member of the FoCo Cafe.

Click here to read it on February 2015 Style Magazine website