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Review of Community Matters Café in Charlotte

Updated: May 13

For those who have been reading our newsletter for a while, you know that we love restaurants with a story. So, this month, we bring you a great story about Community Matters Cafe located on West First Street in Third Ward - just yards away from Bank of America Stadium.

To fully understand the Cafe as will refer to it here, you have to know the history behind its parent organization, the Charlotte Rescue Mission. Founded in 1938, the Mission focused in its early years on serving those who were homeless as well as sharing the Gospel of Christ. After years of seeing how many men that it was serving were battling addiction, the Mission decided in 1990 to hire a staff of Christians trained in professional substance abuse recovery. They created a 90-day residential program empowering men to break the cycles of homelessness and addiction to become productive citizens in the community. And they called this program Rebound. Two years later, a similar program for women (including those with children), called Dove’s Nest, was started. Then in 1995, Rebound opened its Recovery Residence to Rebound graduates as they transition out of dependency on community programs and transition into self-sufficiency.

In 2016, Rebound and Dove’s Nest modified their programs to a minimum of 120 days which begins with 30 days of intense counseling and education. Rebound can serve 130 men at one time while Dove’s Nest, located 4 miles away, is able to serve up to 120 women and their children.

Around that time, the leadership of the Mission had a dream of creating a for-profit restaurant that would provide employment opportunities for Rebound and Dove’s Nest graduates while generating funds that would be invested back into the programs of the Mission. In 2017, they were approached by Community Matters, a local nonprofit, which was created to provide unique philanthropic opportunities for insurance and risk management professionals in Charlotte. After hearing the Mission’s vision for starting a restaurant, Community Matters pledged $1,000,000 to help get it started. Within 90 days of that, two local churches and the ABC Board (itself a nonprofit) pledged another $800,000, and they hired Ed Price. Ed has a long history in the nonprofit world and had recently spent three years opening a kitchen and catering operation for another local ministry. After the Mission then raised an additional $800,000, it began construction of what was to be called Community Matters Cafe in a building next to its Rebound facilities. In addition to overseeing the Cafe’s construction, Ed set out to hire a staff of professionally-trained chefs. He knew from experience that one of the keys to creating a profitable restaurant is having talented chefs in the kitchen. “Anyone can make a mediocre grilled cheese and cup of coffee,” Ed told us when we interviewed him. “Our purpose and mission may bring people in the doors, but they will not come back if the food isn’t good.” The cafe also employs 23 students who are graduates of Rebound or Dove’s Nest. To be hired, they must undergo 2 rigorous interviews and submit a written essay. The students are paid a market-rate wage, are given a room at one of the Mission’s transitional housing facilities rent-free, and work in the Cafe for 4 months. The goal of their employment, Ed told us, is to help the students build work, life & social skills “in order to thrive, not just survive, in our community.”

In April 2019, the Cafe opened its doors for breakfast and lunch, and by all measures, it has exceeded expectations. On our most recent visit at lunchtime, there was a waiting list to be seated by 12:15. The farm to table menu, which changes seasonally, offers plenty of good choices, especially since breakfast is served anytime. This visit, Beth had the Mesclun Salad combining a bed of fresh spring mix, roasted beets, feta cheese, and spiced pecans with a serving of homemade chicken salad. It was excellent. I had a bowl of fresh tomato soup then the Sweet Potato Hash. It was made with fresh sweet potato, mushroom, turkey sausage, & spinach with 2 eggs cooked to order on top. I ordered the eggs over easy and the dish was fantastic.

Parking is ample and the proximity to Uptown makes the Cafe an excellent spot to meet someone for breakfast or lunch. Since they are open on Saturday, it’s also a fun place to bring the family. In addition to the large dining room and several covered outdoor tables, there is a private room, seating up to 24, which can be reserved. And since the Cafe normally closes at 3:30, the entire restaurant can be rented for dinner and a custom menu of food is available. This space is excellent for large meetings, parties, or other gatherings as the space was designed with that purpose in mind. Seating arrangements can be customized and the space includes a built-in audio-visual system with wireless microphones. We held an event for about 60 people last year before COVID and plan to do so again in the future.

So what are the future goals for the Cafe? One day, Ed would like to start catering boxed meals to local employers. Prior to COVID, there was a lot of demand from Uptown businesses for this, according to Price. And he believes those businesses would prefer to cater those meals from a nonprofit who provides great food at a reasonable value.

Most importantly though, the Cafe’s goal will continue to be: Serve God, Serve People, Serve Great Food in order to To Restore Hope.

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