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Downtown Tampa's Portico Cafe opens to customers while offering opportunities

TAMPA

Tampa java lovers now have a new place to satisfy their coffee cravings – and help the homeless with each cup.

After more than a year of planning and construction, The Portico Café is now open. It's the latest addition to the Portico campus, which is an outreach ministry of Hyde Park United Methodist Church.

Church leaders invited the community for a peek at the new space on May 5.

The café is an example of the church's vision that The Portico be a place that fosters important conversation, offers a connection to the community, and facilitates change, said campus director Rev. Justin LaRosa.

"We said we can create that and we can create something with a mission," he said.

The café was a winner with both patrons and local leaders.

Garrett Scott, an assistant manager at the Metro 510 complex across the street, said he's certain the café will be a regular morning stop for him.

"I think it's beautiful," he said. "It gives the feel of a Starbucks with a local niche, which I like."

Mayor Bob Buckhorn called this latest business opening in the booming downtown Tampa corridor "a ribbon-cutting with a purpose."

"It is a church that understands they have to take their message outside the walls of the church," he said. "It's a win-win all the way around."

Like its peers, the café offers a wide selection of hot and cold coffee drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, and iced mochas. Smoothies and sandwiches also are available for purchase. A bright and airy open concept layout offers visitors a choice of meeting with friends at one of the high tables or snuggling alone with a book in a cushioned chair.

The difference lies in the café's mission: each purchase supports the Portico's homeless initiatives. And all of the baristas are hired through local nonprofit agencies like DACCO and Metropolitan Ministries.

Extending a "shot" or second chance to folks who are recovering from drug additions or homelessness is a critical part of the café's purpose, LaRosa said.

Equally important was offering healthcare and paying a livable wage, said café manager Gregory Balo.

Baristas earn $13.50 an hour. That includes a base pay of $9 and tips estimated at $4 an hour.

If the amount of tips falls short, the church makes up the difference, ensuring that each employee receives their per hour wage, he said.

Balo, who's managed cafes for a decade, said such an incentive is a win for both the café and employees.

Paying a livable wage helps staff feel valued and "helps retain employees a little better," he said.

Sterling Schulte, a barista, was working at a sandwich shop prior to signing on with The Portico Café.

The pay was low at her old job and Schulte said she really didn't have a future there.

Now, she's making more money and having her own apartment is within reach, Schulte said.

Schulte admits she was nervous about taking the job at the café because of its connection to the church. But she's found the family-like environment has been a great help as she goes through methadone detox.

"It's a great support network," she said. "I want to be a better person working here."

Contact Kenya Woodard at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Downtown Tampa's Portico Cafe opens to customers while offering opportunities 05/09/17 [Last modified: Thursday, May 11, 2017 10:34am]
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