How Freedom a la Cart’s new downtown cafe will help expand its reach

Columbus Business First

Freedom Cafe (Image courtesy Columbus Business First)

COLUMBUS (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — Freedom a la Cart’s business is getting bigger so its mission can get bigger.

The Columbus social enterprise, which has spent the last 10 years helping survivors of human trafficking, will open its Freedom Café at 123 E. Spring St. on April 5, giving the organization its first customer-facing retail space, expected to create new opportunities and revenue.

“This creates more opportunities for employment, more positions, more skills,” CEO Paula Haines said. “This makes it easier for the community to support us; it’ll raise our profile.”

Freedom a la Cart employs 27 and expects to grow to between 30 and 35 by year-end. The business started as a food cart, but built a catering and box lunch business in a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and started a Freedom at Home prepared meal business.

All that work moves into the two-story, 7,500-square-foot building on Spring Street, which is now the home for all of Freedom a la Cart’s operations. The bakery will run on the first floor. The second floor is the Freedom Loft, which includes space for counseling and education. There are kitchens on both floors and event space that can be rented out to the public – another new source of revenue.

Add all that up and Haines said the business could generate $1 million in revenue this year. That’s more money for the mission.

While much of the training has been kitchen, catering and back-of-house duties, the café creates customer service and front-of-house opportunities.

Haines said they hope to help 600 women through the new location with employment, training, education and counseling.

“Covid really opened our eyes to some needs,” Haines said.

New programs developed in the past year including housing and utility assistance and a savings matching program.

Freedom a la Cart, like many, saw its revenue drop in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Haines said it wasn’t as bad as first feared. Sales were down 23% versus expectations, but only were off 10% from 2019.

She credited the prepared meal program for helping that. The café only solidifies the organization more.

“When we were working on the menu, we wanted something that would check the box for everyone,” said Social Enterprise Director Carissa Martin. “There are some bold, intense flavors that we’re really excited to show off.”

Health-focused or indulgent, the café hopes to feed a wide swath of customers. It’ll be a breakfast and lunch operation — plenty of baked goods too — with hours from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. It will be closed Sundays.

The project’s received assistance from a number of notable Columbus entities and culinary individuals including:

  • Chef Lara Pipia, the organization’s founding chef returned to help develop the café menu.
  • Chef B.J. Lieberman, who opened Chapman’s Eat Market last year, consulted on the menu early and helped lay out the kitchen design.
  • Cameron Mitchell Restaurants donated equipment and shared advice.
  • Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea, which already stocks Freedom a la Cart items at its Easton Town Center coffee shop, will be the café’s coffee supplier. It’s helped with training and events as well.

Look to the menu for one final notable nod of acknowledgement. The Don’t Judge Me sandwich was created in honor of retired Judge Paul Herbert who created the CATCH Court (Changing Actions to Change Habits) in 2009 to identify and assist human trafficking survivors.

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