Kaffe 101 works to survive through COVID-19 restrictions

Thomas Lee and Roxanne Steward look at an order ticket at Kaffe 101 in Coos Bay on Saturday.

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COOS BAY — At a moment’s notice everything changed.

Like so many Americans around the country, Teka Brown recalls not too long ago stepping into her downtown Coos Bay café to see dozens of familiar faces sharing in good times and good food.

“You walk in here and it feels like home,” she said. “It’s peaceful. It’s safe. It’s a place for the community to come together.”

Co-owner of Kaffe 101, when Brown steps into her business now she sees rows of empty tables and closure signs as the once crowded sights of the café for the time being are no more.

Last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown restricted restaurants, bars and other establishments that offer food or beverages from offering dine-in options to community members around the state as a preventative measure to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The order, which was passed to promote social distancing, limited restaurants and bars for the next four weeks to only provide customers with take-out or delivery services.

As a result of the recent ban, Brown, unable to afford her staff, was forced to lay off her employees as her customer based dropped 46 percent as well as her profits by approximately 40 percent in last few days since the ban was put into place.

“It’s been hard especially with laying off our staff,” said Brown tearfully. “Our staff is great and they really make our café and so to let them go and to have to tell them I don’t know when you’ll come back I think has been the hardest thing.”

Thousands of layoffs have occurred across the nation employers have limited its operations or closed its doors to stop and slow down the spread of COVID-19.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of Americans filing for unemployment jumped by 70,000 last week, the highest level for initial claims since Sept. 2017.

The café, which is currently offering curbside service, has adjusted its operations in response to the new mandate and like so many other small businesses its doing its best to safely provide food services to the community.

A family-run business, Brown said she’s enlisted the help of her 12-year-old daughter, Tailor, her 16-year-old brother, Benjamin and her mother and business partner, Roxanne Steward as well as her husband, Kyle, and countless other family members and friends to help her run the café.

“Our whole family is helping,” she said. “We’ve also had a couple of people come in and volunteer their time as a way to give back.”

The community’s support and help during such a time of uncertainty is really what’s allowed her to keep her business open, said Brown. Thomas Lee, who was also laid off from his job this past week, said he chose to volunteer simply because he wanted to give back to the community and help.

A number of Young Life members, a local youth ministry group, also provided assistance last week by helping the café package over 100 lunch boxes which the café is offering for students currently out of school.

With updates and changes coming in on a day-to-day basis regarding the coronavirus, Brown said she is hoping she can remain open and still provide services to the community. 

“We had an elderly guy come in crying the other day and he says, ‘I don’t cook, you guys are my only breakfast,’” said Brown. “He comes in every day for his breakfast burrito so for him and others we’d like to stay open for him to be able to still come in.”

In addition to laying off its employees, the café has also had to throw out some of its food and cut back on its prep work. The cafe’s bookstore, which is run by Brown’s mom and co-owner Roxanne, is also following suit and holding out on ordering additional inventory.

While Brown’s children have been home-schooled for several years, Brown said having them at store has been a great learning experience for them as they have learned an array of business and applicable life skills.

Over the past few days, her children have learned about customer service, money management and stocking and workplace sanitation.

A parent to five children, ranging from the ages of 3 to 12, Brown and her husband, who are fostering a child, said they talked with their children about the current health crisis as a way to lessen any worries they might have had.

“I think our kids were a little nervous and thinking why can’t they spend time with their friends and if they did something wrong,” said Brown. “We just continued to discus with them that this was about being safe … we talked about the importance of washing your hands and we definitely used it as a training opportunity.”

A community united, Brown said she’s thankful for the entire community and their support for all the small businesses in Coos County. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, now is the time for small businesses to rally together and help one another, she added.

“This week without having the community support and without my staff being gracious we wouldn’t be in business,” said Brown. “I’m thankful that people are still willing to come in I’m thankful that people are willing to donate to the children food share program. I’m thankful that we’re still here.”

The café, which opened in 1992, was founded by Associate Pastor at Bandon Christian Fellowship Dave Herold and his wife, Kathy, who opened the café originally across the street from its current location.

According to Brown, the Herolds sold the café to the Bandon Christian Fellowship, which operated it for about 10 years, sometime in the early 2000s.

“My husband (Wayne) and I said something to Dave like, ‘Hey, if you ever decide to sell we would love to own a place like this,’ because it was a ministry and then obviously nothing ever came of that until about 25 years later,” said Steward. “We really prayed about it, about owning it and this is such a ministry to our community we didn’t want to see it go away.”

When the café went on sale again, Brown’s parents, Roxanne and Wayne, seized the opportunity and bought the business.

With a commitment to keeping true to the café’s roots, Steward said they will continue to hold on to hope and their Christian faith as they work to navigate the state and county’s continued restrictions on its business during the coronavirus crisis.

“I have faith,” said Steward. “And faith will move your mountains and right now this is a mountain. It’s going to be OK.”

Reporter Amanda Linares can be reached at 541-266-6039 or by email at worldnews3@countrymedia.net.

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