North Bramalea United Church Pastor Jamie Holtom recently challenged his congregation to go into the community and make a difference. One of the outcomes of this challenge was the Soul Café, a restaurant which plans to provide affordable, healthy meals to Brampton residents as part of the “pay it forward” social economy.

As part of this, Soul Café will use the button system. There will be a jar of buttons that patrons can purchase in addition to their meal. Those buttons can then be used by someone who can’t afford a meal.

After organizing four successful pop-up cafés between February and May of 2017, Soul Café hopes to establish a permanent location in the early part of 2018.

Valerie Benson Steele, one of the Soul Café Brampton team members, says the concept was inspired by places like Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen in New Jersey and Hamilton’s 541 Eatery & Exchange, two restaurants designed to help people for whom eating out is a luxury.

The plan is for Soul Café to serve as not just a restaurant, but also a place that will attract an eclectic group from the community. Most importantly, Soul Café will be a place where everyone feels truly welcome.

Steele says many of the community members who attended the pop-ups seemed to truly catch Soul Café’s vision. At one of the pop-ups, volunteers handed out cards advertising the event and soon after, a couple stopped by with their guitars and performed an impromptu concert. Artists from The Journey program in the Ardglen/Orenda neighborhoods also attended the pop-ups and displayed their art. One artist even brought art supplies and painted on site.

Soul Café has received funding from personal donors and has applied for grants for additional funding. It will be set up as a not-for-profit or social enterprise business that will employ volunteers. The organizers want Soul Café to be a stepping stone to employment elsewhere and will offer job opportunities to those who need to gain skills.

Soul Café is currently looking for a permanent location, which they hope to finalize in early 2018. They intend open six to seven days a week from around 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to cater to both the morning and evening rush crowds.

Steele sees the cafe as an opportunity to connect people across diverse backgrounds. “We see people,” she says, “but do we really connect with one another?” She hopes that a place like Soul Café will help residents realize that we are all working together to build a better Brampton.

Another pop-up happens in early 2018. Steele confirms the food will be “fabulous” and hopes the community will get involved to support Soul Café. People who want to find out more should follow the Soul Café Facebook page, and let the organizers know what they would like to contribute in terms of funding, volunteering, or helping to spread the word.

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