• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Spark Community Café nearly ready to open, feed hungry

For those anxiously awaiting Spark Community Café to open its doors in downtown Versailles, the wait is nearly over. Local families needing a hand-up will receive locally-sourced, nutritious meals at the nonprofit restaurant on the corner of North Main and Green streets by the first or second week of February, the café’s organizers said.

The co-executive directors of nonprofit’s board spoke to the Sun in the space that will soon house a dining room where families facing food insecurity can “pay” for a meal by volunteering their time.

“If we had 20 years of restaurant experience,” said Tristan Ferrell, “it would’ve happened six months ago.” Still, he said his excitement level as opening day nears “out of a 10, (is) probably like a 12.”

“I’m more nervous now too,” added Ferrell, “just because we want to make sure that it’s right … We want to make sure it’s perfect when we open.”

Kyle Fannin said since the first conversation about opening a pay-it-forward café happened two years ago, money for start-up costs needed to be raised. The nonprofit has received $65,000 in donations, and remains on pace to raise a total $100,000, he said.

Another speed bump in delaying its opening (originally set for last summer) was obtaining permits from the state after its building inspections.

In order to avoid paying the high cost of installing overhead sprinklers in the café, the owners of the building (Versailles Property Group, LLC) were given permission from the state to install firewalls to prevent the spread of fire to adjacent spaces, Fannin said. The cost was an additional $25,000, but at least 50 percent less-costly than sprinklers, he added. Utilities – electric, gas, water and heating/cooling systems – are ready or nearly-ready to come online, Fannin said. He said a final inspection is set for early January, “and then it’s how fast can we put a restaurant in here?”

As Fannin stood in the large open space that will soon be transformed into the café’s dining room with a fireplace and lots of natural light last week, he asked, “Could we recreate this if we wanted to?”

A place for everyone

With about 12 percent of Woodford County’s population (and more in Versailles) facing food insecurity – defined as a household condition where “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money or other resources at times during the year” – the need for Spark Community Café is obvious to those involved in making this idea a reality. Now, they need to make sure local families facing food insecurity patronize this pay-it-forward restaurant.

“That’s our biggest concern,” said Fannin. “We didn’t work two years” just to open a cool restaurant.”

By encouraging everyone who eats at Spark Community Café to pay with a prepaid card, this restaurant’s backers said they are confident they’ll eliminate any stigma that’s attached to receiving a meal because someone else “paid it forward.”

“Everyone is encouraged to volunteer,” said Fannin. “So you won’t know by that either,” whether someone’s volunteering to just volunteer or volunteering to pay for a meal.

The café’s meals will be locally-sourced from seven Central Kentucky farms, including four here in Woodford County, with one of the farmers, Jesse Frost, also serving as Spark Community Café’s executive chef.

Besides being a restaurant that will feed the hungry, Spark Café will offer a community space where people – especially the youth – can gather, said board member Lori Garkovich.

“I’m excited for the community and for the youth, for people who are hungry in this community,” explained Garkovich. She presented the idea of opening “a pop-up” coffee shop to Fannin’s community activism class a couple years ago and that compelled five Woodford County High School seniors to attend a summit about pay-it-forward nonprofit cafés and serve on the board that made Spark Community Café happen.

Ferrell, one of those seniors, said he appreciates being able to help people in a community where he grew up, and also being involved in a restaurant startup that fulfills a “culinary curiosity that I have.”

The 2017 WCHS grad said he’s hopeful to help set up an apprenticeship program for students in the high school’s culinary program, which he was a part of.

Fannin, a retired teacher, said being a part of opening a pay-it-forward restaurant in downtown Versailles has made him “much more positive about this community.”

A community table seating 10 to 12 people will be situated near the café’s fireplace at the center of the space. It provides a place for everyone to come together, explained Ferrell.

Volunteer ambassadors will inform patrons about Spark Community Café and the realities of hunger in a community like Versailles, and also solicit input on how to improve the nonprofit restaurant, Garkovich said.

Spark Café will also honor those who contributed to making the nonprofit restaurant a reality, according to Ferrell. He said donors of all levels will be recognized in various ways in this space so patrons will know the community effort behind a pay-it-forward restaurant dedicated to feeding the hungry.

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