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Coffee shop and cafe that employs people with disabilities is now open in New Baden

Belleville News-Democrat - 11/12/2019

Nov. 12--The Red Porch cafe will open Tuesday in New Baden, giving metro-east residents a quaint new place for breakfast and lunch.

It will serve housemade sandwiches, wraps, grain bowls, soups and salads, as well as breads and pastries from Berkemann's Baker's Dozen in New Baden, coffee from Goshen Coffee Co. in Edwardsville, soda from Excel Bottling in Breese and teas from The Republic of Tea.

The cafe will be operated by Community Link, a non-profit organization based in Breese. Employees and volunteers have been working for months to get it ready.

"We thought, 'If we're going to bring this concept to a community that has never had it before, we have to do it right,'" said Mary Hilmes, community outreach and volunteer coordinator.

Community Link's mission is to enhance the lives of people with Down syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities by offering them more choices, opportunities and interactions with the community.

Its clients will work alongside job coaches and other employees at The Red Porch.

"We really consider this a training site," Hilmes said. "It's a place where participants can learn relevant job skills and get experience interacting with the community and just really find their niche to see if this is something they want to do."

Hilmes also expects the cafe to show other employers how people with disabilities can be productive and contribute to the local economy.

Home converted into cafe

The Red Porch occupies a former home at 301 E. Hanover St. Community Link is partnering with Southern Illinois Living Centers, which owns the building and recently used it for offices. SILC also operates Clinton Manor, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility with a homelike environment.

Today, the former living room of the Hanover Street home has a bakery case and counter, where customers order food and drinks.

"We have an Asian chicken salad, a harvest salad and a great orzo salad," said Manager Lynn Pannier. "We're trying to do more than just the chef salad or the Cobb salad. We're trying to be different."

They also plan to offer as many healthy options as possible, including some gluten-free menu items.

On Monday, Hilmes, Pannier and Hilmes's daughter, Katherine Nee, 14, were busy in the kitchen preparing food for opening day. Pannier wore a T-shirt with the cafe's slogan, "Brew Good. Do Good."

Pannier grew up in New Baden but lived in Madison, Wisconsin, for 18 years before returning. Up north, she attended culinary school and worked in restaurants and hotels.

Pannier was attracted to The Red Porch job, in part, because of its goal to help people with disabilities.

"The participants have already come so far," she said. "It's not like they're just washing dishes. They're prepping sandwiches. They're making salads. They're so proud of what they're doing."

Little Free Library on site

The Red Porch customers will sit at wooden tables in the main dining room or on upholstered vinyl chairs in the "library room," where books can be donated or borrowed through the international Free Little Library system.

Walls are red, gold and green with hardwood floors and decor by Dawn Ahner, owner of Ahner Florist, who plans to change things around each season.

Tables are stenciled with checkerboards. Shelves hold Chinese checkers, chess, Scrabble, dominoes and other games.

"There's a reason there's not a TV in here," Hilmes said. "We want to focus more on building relationships and building community. It's not that we discourage telework. We do have free Wi-Fi. But we also want this to be a place where people talk and interact with each other."

A Community Link employee came up with the name "The Red Porch," prompting workers to paint stone around the porch red with yellow trim to coordinate with red shutters on the white-sided home.

"We thought it would stick with people and maybe even help them find the place," said Cindy Timmermann, development director.

The organization bought a new espresso machine, coffee brewer and coffee grinder with an $8,293 grant from REAL (Resources for Enhanced Active Living), a local group whose purpose is to "make available or augment services and supports to afford a lifestyle of dignity and opportunity for mature adults and people with developmental disabilities."

SILC also donated $5,000 for equipment and supplies, in addition to use of the building.

The Red Porch hours are 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. For more information, visit the website at www.theredporch.org or call 618-588-5250.

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