FoCo Cafe opens to give back

Aaron Kolb
Aaron Kolb

Fort Collins is a great town for food lovers. It boasts nationally-recognized breweries and the highest number of restaurants per capita in the United States. With this robust dining scene, the opening of a new restaurant is not the kind of thing that would normally attract much press. Nor would a new café typically receive much in the way of backlash. But the upcoming opening of FoCo Café has seen both of those, for it will be a restaurant unlike any other in our town.

FoCo Café’s goal is radically different from your typical eating establishments. Instead of turning a profit, the café is seeking to turn back hunger, replacing a cash register with a donation box where diners can pay what they please – or even walk away with a free meal – depending on what they are able to afford. The restaurant will be located in a city-owned building on 225 Maple Street. City Council granted initial approval to this plan last week, but the Council’s final authorization is still forthcoming. For this reason the café does not have a projected opening date, but it should be sometime this spring.
This is the culmination of a two-year long effort by Jeff and Kathleen Baumgardner, who were inspired by a similar project that has been open in Denver since 2006. Finding a final location has not been easy, as plans to occupy a building on LaPorte Ave. were nixed when it was slated to be torn down. FoCo Café relies heavily on community support, with donated kitchen supplies and lots of volunteer help.
While undoubtedly a few starving college students might drop in for cheap eats, the restaurant is aiming to ease the burden on Fort Collins’ poor and homeless, which is a goal that I am sure most of us are behind. Not all local residents, however, are thrilled with the idea of having the city’s needy in close proximity to them.
At a recent City Council meeting some neighbors opposed the café because their concerns about safety. Presumably they thought that the presence of the less fortunate would pose a threat, which is a view based on fearful assumptions about the poor. The notion that all poor folks are simply depraved and dangerous is outdated and echoes old Social Darwinist thinking that held that someone’s economic status was a reflection of their nature. We can do better than that today. Poverty is more often than not caused by the circumstances into which someone was born and those who have not are just as likely to be decent people as the wealthy. Anyway, FoCo Café will only be open from 11 am to 2 pm, so fears about hungry strangers prowling around in the night are not likely to be realized.
That is not to say that it is not understandable why neighbors might have that reaction. Basic human instinct leads us to be fearful of the outsider and the unknown. When humans were just trying to survive in the wild it would have served us well to be wary of anything that came out of the dreadful dark. Well we are no longer in the wild and the dark is no longer so dreadful. Surely in this modern world we can find the compassion to overcome those primal instincts and lend a hand to those in need.
In their argument against FoCo Café, some Fort Collins residents said that they supported the idea as long as it was away from them. In other words, “not in my backyard.” The problem with this attitude is that if everyone had it their way we would never see the fruition of FoCo Café and its goal of helping the hungry. Unless FoCo Café should be banished to the middle of the empty prairie it’s got to be in somebody’s backyard.
Hunger is still a widespread problem in our country and in out state. According to Hunger Free Colorado, 22 percent of this state’s families with children face some level of food insecurity. FoCo Café cannot solve that problem by itself, but it could at least ease the burden of some of our local residents. The fact that the café’s success will be largely dependent on the efforts of the Fort Collins community allows for all of us to take some small part in that effort. Volunteering and donating help not only the receiver but the giver. FoCo Café’s potential to do good should not be held up because of misplaced fears.
Aaron Kolb is a freshman engineering major. Feedback and the like can be sent to
In Brief:
FoCo Café isn’t looking for profit — you can pay by donation.
The community is responding with some concerns based on assumptions about the poor.
While we can be instinctually fearful of the unknown, we also need to realize that hunger is a widespread problem and we need to do what we can to help.