Interview with Mallory Garneau, Executive Director of FoCo Café. Be sure to follow FoCo Café on Instagram & Facebook.
Can you introduce yourself to the community? What is FoCo Cafe and why was it started?
My name is Mallory Garneau and I am a graduate of Colorado State University with a Master’s Degree in Social Work and a minor in International Development. I now oversee all operations of FoCo Cafe.
FoCo Cafe is the first and only nonprofit restaurant in Fort Collins. The Cafe’s mission is to empower all people through food by providing nutritious and delicious meals to all people regardless of their ability to pay while using mostly local, organic, and sustainably grown ingredients. Our minimum monetary donation is $4, and if you are unable to pay, we just ask that you volunteer your time and talent in exchange for your meal. It is the intent of the FoCo Cafe to build a healthy community, and we have built our 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.
FoCo Cafe was started by a married couple, Jeff and Kathleen Baumgardner. Jeff and Kathleen wanted to combine their experiences and passions into a setting that offered amazing food, a commitment to service, and building community at its center. They began setting meetings with anyone and everyone in town, and the overwhelmingly positive response pushed them forward.
Months later, Jeff and Kathleen found their garage full of donated kitchen equipment, café tables, and chairs. Boxes of dishes would appear on their front porch, e-mails came in from people eager to volunteer, college students began working on key projects, professionals were offering valuable services at no cost; and this pay-what-you-can cafe became a reality, opening on Thanksgiving Day in 2014.
What support do you need during this time that was missing/what are the challenges you’re still facing today? What type of support do you feel you received?
Our biggest need and challenge at this time is due to COVID circumstances. Before COVID, we served on average, 70 people a day. Since we opened back up for indoor dining in September 2021, we have served on average 15-20 people a day. Coming in to join us for lunch and bringing friends is one of the BEST ways to support FoCo Cafe! The other way you can support FoCo Cafe is through a sustaining membership or becoming a monthly donor of anywhere from $10-$1,000 a month. This helps to ensure long term sustainability, as donations each day fluctuate greatly.
How can the community best support FoCo Cafe?
Come for lunch, bring friends and tell other about the Cafe. Become a sustaining member or a key volunteer that can fill important roles on days the staff have off.
What’s one thing that would surprise people about your business?
Our business model offers many surprises for our customers. Many people walk in and don’t know we are a non-profit. Many people believe we do not have to buy any of the food we serve because it is donated, but the reality is that we buy over 70% of the food we serve in order to support local farmers and the local economy. We wouldn’t be here if the farmers weren’t, so we try to make it a win-win for all involved. Many people are also surprised at the takeaway from visiting FoCo Cafe. We serve healthy and delicious food, but patrons tend to gain so much more than a hot healthy meal. The food brings people together from all backgrounds and that’s where the magic happens!
How does owning a local business keep you connected to the community?
FoCo Cafe has a unique connection to the community with the unique Community Cafe model. We are connected to community members from all backgrounds and circumstances because of the welcoming space that tends to bridge those usual social barrier that often keep those in need stuck or held down and those with means unable to connect to them in a dignified and equitable way. We are very active in food justice advocacy and have very diverse partnerships allowing us to connect in multiple meaningful ways to many different populations.
Do you have any special events, promotions, products upcoming you would like to share with the community?
September: Garden Harvest Social with small plates from local chefs, live music, local art and vendors
First Tuesday in December: Party with a Purpose (our 10th annual this year!) – we’re partnering with Odell’s to throw a party to raise enough to cover rent and utilities for the following year through online donations and the event at the Odell Taproom.
We also introduced a 3-year pledge program where businesses or individuals can commit to a set donation for the next three years to be donated on Colorado Gives Day (to elevate the impact) over the span of three years ($1,000+/ year)
What’s a must-try dish served at the café?
The Hungarian Mushroom soup is my personal favorite. The Chicken Taco Soup, hand pies (served on Thursdays!), and the Caesar Salad are community favorites from the Cafe. We have several items that change daily or weekly and change the whole menu seasonally so there is always things you can count on seeing, and some new exciting options keeping the menu exciting and locally sourced.