The FoCo Café, Northern Colorado’s only non-profit, pay what you can cafe, is facing a financial crisis that may force it to close its doors temporarily or even permanently. Executive Director Mallory Garneau and the Board of Directors are launching a sustaining membership campaign in an effort to continue serving meals to the community. “Our model is really unique because we are the only restaurant that offers healthy lunch options to anyone regardless of their ability to pay,” Garneau said.

The Cafe is coming up on its four year anniversary and this past year, it has gone through some new growing pains. Last summer it transitioned from founders Jeff and
Kathleen Baumgartner who served as volunteer Head Chef and Executive Director, to adding two paid staff members to fill these positions.

In addition to the leadership transition, FoCo Cafe has seen reserves dwindle significantly due to unexpected and increased operating expenses. As part of its
mission, the cafe is committed to taking care of its employees by offering competitive wages and health insurance. The cafe has seen health insurance and workman’s comp premiums increase significantly. Additional expenses also came from little things like a water bill increase after installing the City’s first year-round water filling station on its property, adding BMI and Ascap music licensing to cover the live music often played by volunteers during lunch service, and an increase in rent. Unusual for a non-profit, but because it serves meals, the Cafe is required to pay City, State and County sales tax on each meal it serves, regardless of how the meal was paid for – money, time or talent.

Compounding the increase in expenses, the Cafe has seen a rise in the number of meals being served and a significant decrease in the average meal donation. Last year the average donation for a meal was over $6.50; the cafe has seen this number drop in 2018 to under $4.96 and in August the number dropped to $3.83. “We still have to purchase all of the ingredients to serve our customers which is just under $11.82 a plate when you factor in rent, labor, food costs and other operating expenses,” Garneau added, “we supplement our meal donation income with grants, food donations and our various giving programs, but it is easy to see why the Cafe needs to increase donor funding and its per meal donation.”

The Cafe is implementing changes this month to help increase the average donation per meal as well as create a more welcoming environment. A host station is being
added so guests will be greeted a smiling face explaining how the cafe works and help guests easily make a monetary payment or set them up up to donate time or talent.

“Unfortunately we have seen a trend of guests not paying or contributing with their time and talents and that is not the model the cafe was founded upon,” Garneau said. “Our goal is to move our community in a direction of empowerment services rather than handout services. FoCo Cafe doesn’t hand anything out; rather we ask for a contribution of some kind, whether it is time and talent to help run the Cafe or money to cover the costs.”

The second strategy is launching a Sustaining Membership campaign on Monday, September 17 starting at $10 a month. Depending on the amount donated, members will receive a certain number of meals at the Cafe each year as well as swag like stickers, t-shirts and event tickets. “We would love to see our sustaining members dine with us at the Cafe, but we also know there are a lot of people who just want to support the Cafe’s mission of a hand up, not a handout, whether they are able to eat with us or not,” Garneau said. “We have seen a decline in awareness and excitement of the cafe from the general public. As we hope to enter year four we need to reawaken the conversation around our mission and what it is we really do for the community.” The goal is to raise $50,000 in annual giving by October 31, 2018. “The FoCo Cafe is built by the community, for the community and now we are asking our community to act by making a monthly commitment,” Garneau added. The website to sign up as a sustaining member is .

The Cafe will host two fundraising community open houses to showcase the impact of the cafe, answer questions and introduce new Chef Jarrett, Cafe Staff and Board of Directors to potential donors, as well as enjoy light refreshments prepared by the Cafe on Tuesday, September 25th and Wednesday, October 24th both from 5-7pm.

Overcoming the mis-perception that the Cafe is a soup kitchen is one of the goals of the campaign. The Cafe abides by the same standards that any restaurant has to, but also does things differently because they are a non-profit. The Cafe serves at least two salads and four soups a day that rotate as well as baked goods and dessert. There are vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, meat options and kid friendly options and the Cafe strives to use local and organic ingredients as much as possible.

The biggest twist is that guests can sample the menu and then go back multiple times to enjoy their favorites. “We want people to leave will a full belly and soul and it is also a strategy to mitigate food waste,” Garneau said, “we offer smaller portions, but you can go back as much as you like.”

The atmosphere is also something that sets the Cafe apart from other lunch spots. It is a space that encourages community connections with people of all walks of life. As tables fill up guests are encouraged to sit with one another. “You never know who you are going to find at the Cafe and so often I see people connect, even without full tables.

Bringing people together of all walks of life over the common bond of food is so beneficial for those who dine with us,” Gareau said. “At FoCo Cafe, we build community
one plate at a time, and we hope you will join us in continuing our mission of providing healthy meals to all people regardless of their means.”

  • Quick Facts:
    ● Open Monday – Saturday 11am – 2pm
    ● Just under 80,000 meals since November of 2014
    ● Over 11,000 volunteer hours donated
    ● Northern Colorado’s only non-profit cafe with a pay what you can model
    ● Beyond the lunch service, the cafe offers a Kids Feeding Kids summer breakfast
    program and five outdoor community resources: the FoCo Freedge, the
    Hydration Station, the Kindness Cupboard, the Little Outdoor Library and The
    Giving Tree.
    ● The fundraising goal is to raise $50,000 in annual contributions by October 31,
    ● The FoCo Cafe is hosting two fundraising open houses on Tuesday, September
    25th and Wednesday, October 24th both from 5-7pm.

According to 2014 Census Bureau’s estimates, 18.3% of Fort Collins’ 156,473 residents live in poverty, which is some of the highest in the state of Colorado . With child care costs on the rise, and Fort Collins’ senior population expected to double in the next 15 years, the services offered by FoCo Cafe will be needed more than ever. FoCo Cafe is a constituent driven organization that serves all walks of life, including senior citizens, low-income families, veterans, people with disabilities, and those who are vulnerable to the rising cost of living. Many members in our community are struggling.

The food they can access is often not the best for their health or optimal for children to flourish. We offer an option that allows access to great food, community connections, and skill development in an incredibly positive environment. Jeff and Kathleen Baumgartner, after eating at Denver’s SAME Cafe, saw a need in the
Northern Colorado area for a pay what you can cafe to serve all people of the community regardless of their ability to pay. In 2014 after two years of planning and
fundraising, the FoCo opened its doors on Thanksgiving Day. Jeff served as the head chef and Kathleen was the Executive Director.

In September of 2017, the couple officially retired and turned the reins over to Mallory Garneau as the Executive Director. The Cafe has had several chefs since
Baumgartner’s retirement welcoming Chef Jarrett Parten this July.