In August, the room in the basement of Braddock's Nyia Page Community Center was a blank slate of colorless walls and an uneven concrete floor.
Now, that same room in the former Presbyterian church on Library Street has been transformed into a cafe with pale yellow walls and brightly painted shelves, benches and counters. The Braddock Community Cafe, which opened last week, serves everything from coffee and lattes to soups and sandwiches, a boon for the "restaurant-less" borough.
A $20,000 grant from the Buhl Foundation got the project off the ground, Mayor John Fetterman said, providing funding to renovate the barren room where he lived when he "squatted in the church" from 2003 to 2004.
Sabrina Hykes, the cafe's manager, said that grant paid to level the floor and install a new water heater, a sump pump, sinks and a refrigerator.
After the renovations were completed, participants from the Braddock Youth Project -- a community development, youth employment and work readiness program -- designed the cafe's rustic wood furniture and painted it with bright colors.
Ms. Hykes said the cafe is "youth-driven" -- the youth project participants get the final say in decisions about the cafe's operations, ranging from decor to the menu.
The cafe is funded by Braddock Redux and operates in the Nyia Page Community Center rent-free, Mr. Fetterman said. All proceeds from the cafe will go toward the youth program.
The cafe is also a "venue for BYP gear," Ms. Hykes said. On sale now is a T-shirt designed by BYP participant Devon Caldwell. It's a black T that says "build it back up" in gray capital letters on the front, with "rebuilding 15104" on the back.
The cafe's menu is seasonal and has a healthy, local focus, Ms. Hykes said.
"Our food is all balanced," she said. Each item on the menu was designed to feature as many locally sourced ingredients as possible and to contain balanced carbohydrates, protein and fats totaling between 300 and 500 calories.
In recent months, BYP members surveyed the community to see what they wanted from a menu. Macaroni and cheese was a popular request, but the cafe uses a healthy recipe that features yogurt, less cheese and lots of vegetables. Right now, those veggies are peas, peppers and spinach, but they'll change seasonally, Ms. Hykes said. She added that requests are welcome.
The cafe opened late last week, and a grand opening is slated for Jan. 6.
In the summer, some produce will come from Grow Pittsburgh's Braddock Farms, a large organic garden on the main drag. Other food will be purchased from various local sources, including the East End Food Co-Op, Ms. Hykes said. Locally sourced meat and dairy products will come from Paragon Foods.
"The emphasis is not just on helping us, but other businesses if possible," she said.
Ms. Hykes said the cafe also will hand out healthy recipes and hopes to hold "community events" including cooking demonstrations and children's "garden tours," in which kids will go to Braddock Farms, pick some veggies and bring them back to the cafe to assemble a salad.
Perhaps most importantly, the cafe will provide job training -- some employees will be young people who just finished high school or recently earned their GED and are waiting to find other work, she said.
"It's a great exercise in entrepreneurship and what it takes to get something started," Mr. Fetterman said.
The coffee comes from a nonprofit organization called Building New Hope, which gets its beans from a worker-owned cooperative in Nicaragua. The coffee is certified organic and roasted by Commonplace Coffee, which has coffee shops in Squirrel Hill and Garfield.
Ms. Hykes, who worked with AmeriCorps before taking over the cafe, grew up in Turtle Creek, and her father was a restaurateur. She said she remembers driving down Braddock Avenue as a child, looking at all of the buildings and imagining their potential.
"It's really cool to be working in this space," she said.
For more information about the cafe, including a menu, visit www.braddockcommunitycafe.com.neigh_east - neigh_south
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert. First Published December 27, 2012 5:00 AM