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FoCo Cafe: A Business Case for Kindness

Imagine a world where kindness is currency. No seriously, think about this for a minute. What if, instead of objects being valued based on extrinsic price points, worth was determined by intrinsic virtues like fairness and communal betterment. Now before I get accused of espousing a bygone ideology or somehow pushing some exotic manifesto, let me say at the outset that I’m not talking about any sort of isms here. What I am talking about is the very notion of humanity and the community we can be instead of residing in the muck of materialism and being undone by endless pursuits of consumerism.

These things I speak of are not theoretical, there really is a business case to be made for kindness beyond the fact that we should all strive to do good in life. This case was fortified in my mind when a chance overheard conversation led me to a revelation of wonderful portions. I was walking about town like I had just discovered the cure to pains of hangnails. Then the sublime aspect of life strikes without warning; as I was writing “Revolutions are Written on Paper Napkins” last week at O Artery, I overheard someone talking about a local restaurant called FoCo Cafe. I’ve heard of this restaurant before, in fact a couple of my friends volunteered there in the past and all raved about it.  But sometimes we ignore melodies continuously until serendipity hums the same tune we overlooked right into our eardrums. As I was writing about a revolution of artists that might one day liberate us from the clutches of politicians, all the sudden I hear two people talking about FoCo Cafe as one person was describing the business model of FoCo Cafe to the other.

“It’s actually amazing” this random lady told the guy next to her. “People get the most amazing food and they pay as they can and how they are able, the diversity of class in the restaurant is so cool!” I did not mean to be nosy but I had to stop writing the article I was working on and listen to a random stranger explain the concept behind FoCo Cafe. We are drawn by that which we cherish; the reason I was so transfixed by this casual conversation is because this stranger next to me was describing the very same business model I thought I magically invented for Ghion Journal. I shook my head in a mix of disbelief and joy—we truly are the sum of the things we learn from other people.

I decided at that moment that I would go check out FoCo Cafe the next day. I had to see for myself why so many people who go there swear by this restaurant. The next day, I did not pack lunch, I made it my purpose to go eat at FoCo Cafe! I trekked down Maple Street, passing one corporate restaurant after another, intent on eating at a restaurant that had kindness as its main ingredient. The minute I walked into Foco Cafe, the ambiance of giving and benevolence was evident. A quaint restaurant apart and away from the busy eatery sections of downtown Fort Collins, Foco Cafe was like an oasis away from the cadence of high foot traffic and congested sidewalks. What the two strangers at O Artery were discussing about FoCo Cafe was no hyperbole—the diversity of humanity was heart warming. In the same space sat the well to do and the “invisible folk” we as a society often ignore. Class and station melted away as entrepreneurs, employees and the unemployed shared meals in the same room.

Imagine a world where kindness not price is the engine that drives society. We don’t have to imagine it, FoCo Cafe is doing exactly that in Northern Colorado.

As I was waiting in line for a meal, I ran into Juliana—a local student and a cheerful justice warrior. I asked Juliana about Foco Cafe and she went into detail about the owners Jeff and Kathleen and how the opened up the restaurant to give back to the community and how the husband and wife duo imbue a sense of sustainability and communal interdependence. The more Julian talked about FoCo Cafe, the more I realized that this was about to be my new favorite restaurant. The sense of joy I felt of seeing the business model being turned into reality increased by factors when I realized that the owner Jeff was the same person serving the community. Jeff was behind the counter taking orders and making sure that every person was getting quality service. I mentioned in yesterday’s article that true royalty are not the ones who lead through words; princely folk are the ones who serve others.

Juliana invited me over to her table to eat along with a local musician who is opening up a banjo shop. As I was eating, I was being blessed by two strangers who became friends. I told Juliana that I was a local writer and that I would love to write about FoCo Cafe and if I could follow up with her with some questions about the restaurant. She gladly consented and we exchanged email information. Below is the question and answer dialogue Juliana and I shared on FoCo Cafe:

Q: What is it about FoCo Cafe that attracted you to it? 

A: When I heard there was going to be a non-profit restaurant that was reaching out for donations f tables, silverware, etc., I knew they cared more about the community than money. By reaching out to people that could help and expecting money to source all of their items. Also knowing that their primary source of food were going to be local farmers, that intrigued me (being a farmer myself).

Q: Do you think the practice behind FoCo cafe is transferable, that there is a wider marketplace where “Do as you can” can be a viable alternative to the excesses of materialism/consumerism we live in at the moment?

A: I definitely think the FoCo Cafe’s model can and should be used for inspiration for other companies or organizations. Although the current model of capitalism and selling goods and services exists to create a “living” for some people, I do believe a community like Fort Collins which already has so many available resources can use the cafe’s model more. For Tool sharing cooperatives, farms to share with their volunteers, and even schools that use the community as educators instead of paid staff.. all of that is possible (or already happening) and can thrive without a money-based economy.

Q: If you had to explain FoCo Cafe to a stranger, how would you capture the essence of what FoCo Cafe offers?

A: The cafe is a type of place where you can go by yourself, but make a friend and sit with them. It’s the most ethically sourced food in town. Despite many people thinking they can get a “free” meal, the cafe still needs some pitch for the ingredients they pay for or at least your time working in the kitchen or in the dining area. You can trust that the food comes from local, hardworking organic farmers and that Jeff (the co-founder) takes precious care of the ingredients in the kitchen.

Q: I speak often about community versus corporations, from your perspective, can you discuss what this notion means to you.

A:  think creating a resilient community is our ultimate tool to mitigating our contribution towards corporations. Having a strong community ensures far more safety, security, health, fun, and freedom than any corporation does, which just suck away our money and soul.

Q: Tell me a bit more about yourself.

A: I am graduating CSU with a degree in Ecosystem Science and Sustainability in may and couldn’t be happier to have more time for my hobbies and dreams! I’ve been involved with local non-profit The Growing Project with works with food (gardening) and education, reaching out to the less privileged. I managed a farm in North Fort Collins in 2016. I live on that farm which has a new owner now and will work for them this summer.. Raisin’ Roots. I will also be working with a new youth’s summer enrichment camp which focuses on children as leaders, non-violent communication, riparian ecology, and farm-life. My FC Community is how I got to where I am now. I could see myself working in central/south America in my future as my Brazilian roots draw me back there quite often and keep me wanting to explore more of the southern half of the Americas.

Capitalism is nothing compared to the human spirit. Money keeps getting in the way of the community we can build; in the chase of possessions, over and over again the possessions end up possessing us. I know this to be true, when we give ourselves the allowance to be kind instead of setting a barometer of price or quantifying success, time and again love exceeds our wildest imagination. So I settled on a once learned lesson, the way I would lessen the dissonance I felt at monetizing Ghion Journal was to let the kindness of people be the business model. I drew out a business plan; I would support local businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs and artists on my website by giving them free ad space and in return they can just give back as they are able by contributing to the Ghion Journal #Be2nd drive.

The more I experience life the more I realize that there is nothing original in this universe. The duality of life, both the good and the wicked, are nothing more than learned behaviors that have been passed down from one generation to the next. And it is in this notion that hope glimmers; for the same way that the world is currently devolving into the fiery pits of antipathy, we can reverse the course and elevate ourselves to the high tower of acceptance and good will. Mob thinking can lead us to rhetorical violence and potentially give birth to an outright clash of cultures; or we can pause and let the compass of kindness guide us towards the guiding light of grace.

Why did I mention the paragraph above? See, about a month ago, I finally found a way to lessen the discomfort of “monetizing” this website. For the longest time, I blanched at the thought of using my gift to write and distorting the message my writing conveys to instead focus on money. Once an uber-capitalist myself who was indoctrinated through and through on the notions of maximizing profits, eliminating inefficiencies, and optimizing supply chains by ways of a higher mis-education and corporate conditioning, a jarring intrusion into a life of penury revealed to me the ugly ugly underside of crony capitalism and corporate excesses. After seeing the huddled masses in state after state for almost two years, I could no longer be about individual wealth when the multitude are hobbled by indigence.

I learned more in two years of walking with the masses than I did at four years of strolling through Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. There is a better way than the reality we live in at the moment. I know it is hard to fathom a change where we get away from the excesses of corporatism and instead focus on the very essence of humanity. But what I “discovered” is a way where we can give and take according to the kindness within us. Kindness thus becomes a business model, consider this a business case for good will towards fellow humans. What I’m going to explain next is a notion that I actually beta tested a long time ago when I was in a fraternity at George Mason University. When I was a brother of Omega Psi Phi, my chapter Eta Delta Delta used to conduct car washes once a month to raise money for our scholarship fund. We used to charge $20 a car wash and on any given day collect roughly $400-$500 after washing about 20-25 cars. Not bad, we charged a fix price so we controlled the outcome of the day based on the variable of the quantity of cars washed.

One of the very first things I proposed when I became the president of my chapter in 1997 was to make the car wash free and let people give according to how the “spirit” moved them. Instead of affixing a price for our labor, I proposed that we just depend on the kindness of people. At first my idea was met with mockery but I can be pretty convincing when I put my mind to it; so we decided to try out this “theory” of mine. As my once fraternity brothers were washing cars, I would talk to the car owners and tell them about the history of our fraternity, what our aim was, and conveyed how the kindness of my father was the pathway that I walked on to GMU . I then pivoted from my story and told the patrons of our car wash how we were just doing our part to pass that kindness on to those who are after us. When the day ended and we counted the fruits of our labor, to our astonishment we raised over $2,000 in one day.

Life is truly magical; we can either focus on what is wrong with the world or we can join hands with those who want to make a difference. There is no need to reinvent the wheel nor will claiming credit ameliorate the pains felt around the globe. We are all in this together and it is through kindness, love and giving that we can all make a difference. What we were educated can be unlearned and what we think is permanent can give way to a new paradigm. The same way malice is transferable, doing good is contagious if we are only open to the infectious nature of kindness. @FoCo_Cafe is thriving by making kindness, not profits, its business model. Success and good fortunes will arrive when we lead with love instead of selfishness. Click To Tweet

So next time you are in Fort Collins, Colorado, head over to FoCo Cafe and eat great food surrounded by yet greater people. From staff to customers, all who go to this little audacious cafe in Fort Collins are bonded by kindness and all leave the better after eating among a collective of people who have charity and a taste for good food in common. Here is to FoCo cafe and people around the world who understand that we can change the present atmosphere not through rhetoric and bluster but with small gestures of kindness and by eating together in the presence of love and togetherness. Let me end this on a sublime note, FoCo stands for “Feeding Our Community Ourselves”; see the change we want resides in us after all. #FoCoKindness

None is greater than the other, we all are the greater when we love and give to one another. 

The Ghion Journal is a reader and viewer funded endeavor. We disavow corporate contributions and depend only on the support of our audience to sustain us. The tip jar is earmarked to go directly to the writer, the link below is customized to directly to the author’s account. We thank you in advance for your kindness. 

Find out about FoCo Cafe, this video will give you an amazing insight into the amazing concept behind FoCo Cafe. 

A big thank you to Rake Now for taking kindness on the road and joining FoCo Cafe in spreading kindness as a business case. They are here today at FoCo Cafe serving people a heaping of kindness along with the amazing food that is found everyday at Foco Cafe. Find out about Rake Now by clicking HERE or by clicking on the picture below.



Teodrose Fikremariam
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Teodrose Fikremariam

Writer at Ghion Journal
Teodrose Fikremariam is the co-founder and former editor of the Ghion Journal.
Teodrose Fikremariam
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