Poverty Bay Cafe owners donate business to FUSION

Though a beloved local business is now in the hands of Federal Way nonprofit FUSION, Poverty Bay Cafe will still remain a familiar friend.

FUSION, a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to help homeless families transition into stability, recently opened Federal Way’s first emergency homeless shelter, the Pete Andersen FUSION Family Center, in October.

Earlier this fall, Dan Olmstead, founder of Poverty Bay Coffee Company and owner of Poverty Bay Cafe, announced the Federal Way location now belongs to FUSION. The cafe will be used as a job skill training site for people in need and is aiming to reopen in mid-December, depending on Gov. Jay Inslee’s business guidelines.

This decision to give their business to the nonprofit was prompted by several factors and a confluence of events, specifically the COVID-19 pandemic, said 62-year-old Olmstead.

For a cafe with younger employees often serving an older clientele, “that’s why we decided to close pretty early on,” he said of the transmission dangers. Many people drop into Poverty Bay Cafe and hang out for two to three hours, he said. “That’s the nature of our place.”

While a PPE loan allowed Poverty Bay to reopen for a short period in the summer, the governor’s increased safety guidelines proved too much for the company to survive. The value of selling the cafe was rapidly approaching zero, so Olmstead decided to donate the business, the equipment and the goodwill of Poverty Bay Coffee’s name to FUSION, an organization he speaks highly of.

“In our initial talks with FUSION, what they wanted to do with the cafe as a life skill and job skill training facility … we really wanted that to be a part of the legacy of what we built over the years.”

It was a “natural and easy decision” to donate the business, the cafe, the equipment and the goodwill of Poverty Bay Coffee’s name to FUSION, he said. “What they’re about and they want to accomplish is important for the community, and it’s important to me.”

A new chapter and a familiar friend

Poverty Bay Cafe is keeping its name (and its coffee), but has undergone a transformation. The green carpet has been replaced with new hardwood flooring and a fresh coat of wall paint to brighten up the space. New artwork will be hung and some older memorabilia will remain, too.

A few blocks away on the first floor of the FUSION Family Center is a restaurant-grade industrial kitchen primarily for banquet and luncheon use. However, having this resource now allows FUSION to offer culinary training opportunities to learn the basics of food services. Then, those individuals will be able to work, or as Harrison says, “earn while you learn,” at Poverty Bay Cafe.

FUSION’s mission is to help families become self-sufficient.

“A key for that is you’ve got to have a job,” said David Harrison, FUSION board chair. “The job skill training part has not been part of our equation and we thought, ‘maybe it’s something we should explore.’”

FUSION will mirror their new venture after organizations such as FareStart, a Seattle-based organization that helps people overcome barriers of the poverty cycle by teaching work and life skills needed to succeed in the food service industry, according to their website.

“We thought: What if we had a cafe and had a path where people could get training in food service and they could become baristas or a chef or something like that? And then we repeat that process,” Harrison said.

FUSION officials thought the idea of building an emergency homeless shelter in Federal Way was their most daring dream yet. Then, they decided to open a restaurant.

“We have, as an organization, ventured into the darkness on a number of projects and have come out successful,” Harrison said. “I think this one will be the same way.”

Initially, the cafe will be staffed with individuals who were employed before the pandemic, and the integration of job training for FUSION clients is anticipated to begin in spring or summer of 2021.

The cafe is located at Poverty Bay, 1108 S. 322nd Place, directly next door to the FUSION Décor Boutique, a new and gently used furniture shop.

When the business can safely and successfully reopen, Poverty Bay Cafe will offer a full coffee bar of espresso drinks and other beverages, bakery treats, and grab-and-go prepared food options. With the help of the Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Matt Wiebe, the cafe has restructured its menu to a condensed version featuring all your Poverty Bay Cafe favorites.

“While there are some changes, we’ve tried to keep as much of what Dan and Alice built and everybody loved in the community, and keep that there so it’s a good familiar friend.”

A few weeks ago during the cafe’s closure, a woman came to the front door. A FUSION volunteer at the site informed her of the closure and explained that they hoped to be open in a few weeks. After talking, the woman shared with the volunteer that she and her three kids were homeless.

Homelessness has many faces, Harrison said, many of whom are right here in Federal Way.

“The fact that we can help people in our community, to me, that’s why people want to come here.”

A reopening date for Poverty Bay Cafe has not yet been announced, pending the governor’s pandemic guidelines. Stay up-to-date on the cafe’s happenings via their website and Facebook page.

FUSION is looking for a restaurant manager for Poverty Bay Cafe. Those interested in applying may contact info@fusionfederalway.org