A new coffee shop and cafe has opened in the YWCA building on North Monroe Street in Spokane that helps train women as baristas.
The New Leaf Bakery Cafe, which is run by the Transitions program, has been inside the Catholic Charities headquarters building for the past 10 years. The cafe had a grand opening earlier this month catered by the women in the kitchen training program that goes along with the cafe. They make the sandwiches, salads and baked goods sold in the cafe every day.
The barista program trains about 30 low-income women a year and needed a bigger space with more visibility. The program found accommodations at the Y, said program director Jamie Borgan.
“They not only welcomed us but actively solicited us to come here,” Borgan said during a recent grand opening event.
The vision is to create a safe environment where women can learn the skills they need, Borgan said. The women in the program typically have few job skills, and the free eight-week training program is a way to help them get on their feet.
The barista program has two to three people enrolled at a time, and there is room for an additional five in the kitchen program, said Transitions executive director Edie Rice-Sauer. “It’s a job training program in the culinary arts,” she said. “A lot of what is involved is confidence training.”
About 60 percent of program graduates get a job or enroll in school shortly after finishing the program. After a year that percentage goes up to 80 percent.
“Our percentages are quite high,” Rice-Sauer said. “Once someone completes our program, we help them get employment.”
Rice-Sauer said she’s grateful to Catholic Charities for giving the cafe a home. “They have been a wonderful partner for us,” she said.
The cafe opened at the Y on Dec. 1 but waited to host its grand opening. “We had a soft opening, trying to get all the kinks out,” Rice-Sauer said.
For the grand opening the women in the program prepared Greek and strawberry salads, butternut squash soup, rolls, stuffed mushrooms and cookies. All appeared to be a hit with the crowd of nearly 100 people who turned out for the event.
Rice-Sauer the women’s kitchen skills are available for everyone to enjoy, not just in the baked goods they make for the cafe. “We do catering,” she said.
Madison Billigmeier recently started the barista program. She said she previously worked in a horse barn, but health issues forced her to quit and she needed new job skills. She heard about the program through her girlfriend.
“I’ve been hanging around,” she said. “My girlfriend went through the program before me.”
She said her girlfriend recently got a job, and she hopes the program will do the same for her. “I thought getting the job skills with this would look good on my resume,” she said. “It does put more options on the table.”
Even though she just started, she’s enjoying her job in the cafe. “I like it,” she said. “My favorite part is being the cashier.”
Billigmeier said she’s glad the program exists. “I think it’s a good program and a good opportunity for those looking for a fresh start.”
Program participant Jamie Howell, who spoke at the grand opening ceremony, said she thought the program was just about coffee at first. “The more I looked into it, they had a program for kitchen,” she said. “The kitchen is where I started. It’s the support for the rest of it.”
Howell has five children and six grandchildren and loved to cook for them. But working in the Transitions kitchen offered opportunites to learn other things. “It’s far different than just cooking at home.”
She said she’s now working in the cafe, and she’s been increasing her confidence and learning about the importance of customer service.
“That takes a whole other skill,” she said. “I was used to being behind the scenes.”
She said she likes the new location. “It’s just going to take off,” she said. “It’s going to fly.”