Leslie Coffee Co. combines business and helping those in need

Upon entering Leslie Coffee Co. in Delano, the first thing you may notice is the aroma of espresso or the various plants around the store.

But looking around, a brightly colored fridge sits in the corner next to a rack of non-perishable food.

“Delano is an area that has a homeless community, low-income families who, you know, might be struggling and need help,” said Sarah Leslie, owner of Leslie Coffee Co. “I also think Delano is an area that’s sort of… bordering on being a food desert.

Sarah Leslie owns Leslie Coffee Co. in Delano.

Leslie opened the store months before the pandemic hit. As the store reopened for takeout orders, she installed a refrigerator as part of the ICT Community Refrigerator Project.

The idea is simple: install a fridge, and the community takes what it needs and leaves what it can.

Leslie saw it as an opportunity to bridge the gap between paying customers and give back to people who frequent the store just looking for something to eat or drink.

“If people are hungry, they should be able to find something to eat,” she said.

Jennifer and Kayne are homeless and use Leslie’s fridge. It is also a place where they say they feel accepted.

“We are welcome any day,” Kayne said. “We can come here every day, we can stay here until closing – if we want – and they have no problem with that.”

In return, they help take care of the store.

“Come here, you start acting like a jerk or something, you’re going to ruin it for everyone…it’s coming here and it’s getting hot,” Jennifer said.

Another homeless regular is also employed and helps out in the store. Before that, he helped get food for the community fridge and connected other people to it.

He chose not to be interviewed for this story.

“He came one day in the fall and said, ‘I think I’m ready to get a job, can I work here? “, Leslie said. “He sees this as his place.

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Tate Strasner-Martin is the coffee shop manager of Leslie Coffee Co.

The manager of Leslie’s cafe, Tate Strasner-Martin, is a former social worker who worked with homeless people. He said it made sense to help those in need.

“I think it’s our obligation to the community to provide it,” Strasner-Martin said, “because they’re people like us.”

Katie Robu also works at Leslie’s as head trainer. She said she felt lucky to work in a space that provides food and safety for others.

“They don’t feel like they’re isolated or… seen any differently than anyone else,” Robu said, “and it adds a certain normalcy and structure to people’s lives, which is really important.”

For Leslie, she said it was her way of giving back as a company.

“There are a lot of companies that do … pro bono work, they do charitable contributions,” Leslie said. “There are many ways to be charitable and generous as a company. The way we do it here is a bit different because it’s not something separate.

This prospect did not come without some hindsight.

“What people have told me is… ‘I really appreciate what you’re doing. I think it’s so great what you’re doing, but I have to think about it from a business perspective. And I remind them that I also run a business,” she said.

Leslie said the community fridge and the blending of her business and charity just happened.

“At the end of the day…I just try to do what I think is the right thing,” Leslie said. “It seems like a good opportunity that could help a lot of people.”

For Kayne and Jennifer, it is.

“Boy, if it wasn’t for that,” Kayne said, “Jennifer and I would probably be in serious trouble.”