The Front Porch Café has become a hub of community activity in South Akron, offering employment opportunities for ex-offenders and a locally run eatery. Now, the space above the Café will be developed with a number of possible outcomes, like local business co-operatives, office space or affordable rentals for nonprofits.
Although the second floor of the building is still in the construction phase, Joe Tucker, executive director of South Street Ministries – the building’s owner -- wants to keep one question top-of-mind for its use: “What are the needs of the neighborhood?”
“It's approaching reality,” said Tucker, who estimates completion of the second-floor space at about eight months away. “We’re gathering a committee to see how to use this space well, and how to use this space functionally for South Street and for the neighborhood's good.”
The proposal right now includes nine possible rental spaces, and possibly a “green roof,” or a roof at least partially covered in vegetation to absorb rainwater and provide insulation to reduce heating costs.
What makes this project so unique is its development has followed the community, grassroots approach employed by South Street, whose organization was started 15 years ago by Duane Crabbs.
Fixing up the second floor has been primarily a volunteer effort, said Tucker. Cuyahoga Falls firefighters repaired the roof, and local plumbers donated labor to help bring the space to code. Community volunteers tore out the plaster and refitted wall studs.
Tucker points to a series of electrical boxes outside of the building. “That’s about $90 worth of Subway,” he said, referring to the trade-off of valuable labor in exchange for food for the workers.
As far as the Front Porch Café, which is in its second year of operation, its space serves affordable lunches, along with its potential as a community meeting space for family and neighborhood events. This isn’t far from the building’s previous use as a Croatian social hall.
As a sign of forward thinking, two fish tanks at the Café feed into aquaponics systems, which use aquatic life to fertilize plant-life.
The Front Porch Café has grown considerably since its beginnings as a one-grill operation. “The grill model wasn't profitable,” said Tucker. “We redid the menu, purchased equipment and reopened in March, and that's been the Front Porch Cafe.”
The Café also had some recent help from a local retired restaurateur.
In addition to the Front Porch Café, the first floor of the building also includes the Stray Dog Cart mobile food vendors, which is run by local entrepreneur Charlie Murphy.
Although completion of the upper building space is still months away, South Street has assembled a committee of business and community leaders to determine the best use of the second-floor space, whether it’s a fledgling nonprofit tenant or a business co-op that a number of people share.
“My goal has been to stabilize South Street and grow it,” said Tucker. “We would eventually like to make enough to hire someone like a building manager.”
For more information about South Street Ministries and the Front Porch Café, visit www.southstreetministries.org.
Stay tuned for video from the Front Porch Café in coming weeks.