When Michael was asked to describe our NIH patrons from next door, he answered succinctly “loyal customers.” Loyal customers they are indeed. Two years ago, William Barker, who the group calls Bill or “the Chief,” had heard that there was a café in the new Jewish Federation Building. There was only one problem, he didn’t know where the Jewish Federation building was. So he asked around until he discovered that it was next door to his office. He visited the café, heard about the mission and began to spread the word because he felt that “It’s a good vision and people should know about it.”
And spread the word he has. People from his office regularly order sandwiches and cakes at Café Sunflower. Bill has been coming here almost daily for coffee for two year and he says, “The coffee is really good. I like the coffee cappuccino.” He has brought several others along as well. Sharon is a newcomer who says Café Sunflower’s coffee is better than the coffee in their building’s deli. She said there are Muslims in their office who buy from us because they like the fact that we are kosher. Her favorites are our rugelach and raspberry crumble bars. Doreen Turczyn-Toles began coming here for lunch and then started joining the troupe for happy hour. Each day, rain or shine, between 3:30 and 4:00, a group of three or more NIH loyalists join us from next door.
According to Joey Nowicki, the Café manager, “Café staff look forward every afternoon to a visit from this group. They take pride in memorizing their orders and preparing coffee beverages for them.” William, George, James, Maria, Doreen and Kathy have become part of the Café Sunflower family as they talk to our staff and to one another. When their orders are ready, they linger a few moments longer and say goodbye.
As Michael, who is just finishing his employment training at the Café, watches them leave one day, I ask him to describe the group. After his “loyal customers” response, I inquire about his time in our training program. Michael replies “the Café gave me an opportunity to have my life back.” We are so grateful to our NIH friends and other loyal customers who enable us to help empower young adults like Michael.