A nonprofit group has selected a storefront in downtown Lake Geneva to open a new coffee shop as a place where people with disabilities can work and learn job skills.
Inspiration Ministries, based in the town of Walworth, plans to open its Inspired Coffee shop by next spring in the vacant storefront at 883 W. Main St., next door to Potbelly Sandwich Shop.
Erik Barber, president of Inspiration Ministries, said the organization has signed a five-year lease on the storefront with Inland Real Estate Group LLC of Oak Brook, Illinois, owners of the building.
Barber said downtown Lake Geneva is a good spot for the coffee shop, because it is a well-traveled area in the heart of the city’s shopping and tourism district. The storefront has been vacant since 2015, after previously housing a Caribou Coffee shop from 2011 to 2014 and Peet’s coffee shop in 2014 and 2015.
“This coffee shop can help to put Lake Geneva even more on the map,” Barber said. “We hope it will be a destination place.”
Located at N2270 state Highway 67, Inspiration Ministries operates an assisted-living facility for about 40 residents and independent living apartments for about 30 people with disabilities.
Merik Fell, the group’s director of development, said the group hopes to raise about $400,000 to help pay for the coffee shop’s start-up costs, such as equipment, marketing, furnishing, salaries and renovations.
About $320,000 has been raised already. Fell said he is pleased with the support the organization has received, and he hopes to raise the rest of the funds by next March.
“Just the fact that we’ve been able to raise this much shows that the community is behind us,” Fell said.
Barber said most of the donations have come from local organizations, civic groups and businesses. Several donors have indicated that they feel a program such as Inspired Coffee is needed in the community.
“We’ve been blown away by the response from the community,” he said.
Inspiration Ministries signed a lease for the Main Street storefront in September.
Barber would not disclose how much money the nonprofit group is paying in rent. He said the property owner is offering a discount for the first two years, with the rent to increase during the third year.
After five years, the ministry has the option to lease the building for another five years.
“We’ve negotiated a rate that works for us and works for them,” Barber said.
Inspiration Ministries plans to rely on revenue from the coffee shop to help pay rent for the downtown storefront.
Representatives from Inland Real Estate would not disclose details of the rental agreement with Inspiration Ministries.
“We, unfortunately, cannot disclose the rental rate,” Inland spokeswoman Alyssa Campbell said.
Barber said Inspiration Ministries will continue to seek donations throughout the winter, as well as host upcoming fundraising events.
Members of the Friends of Inspired Coffee plan to host informational meetings from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 and Dec. 5 where more information about the shop will be shared with potential employees and with organizations that work with people who have disabilities.
The ministry is in the process of hiring a general manager and developing design plans for the coffee shop, including a fireplace for a cozy atmosphere.
“We hope to have a rustic kind of a feel in here,” Barber said.
The coffee shop is set to be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Inspired Coffee initially will feature coffee drinks, smoothies and bakery items, although the menu could be expanded later to include soup, sandwiches and ice cream.
Once it is open, the coffee shop will employ 20 to 30 people with physical or developmental disabilities. The employees will serve as baristas, cashiers or greeters.
Positions will be available to high school-age students and adults. Employees do not have to be clients of Inspirational Ministries to work at the coffee shop.
“We hope to serve people of all ages and different types of disabilities as well,” Barber said.
The employees will work as part of a 12-month training program, in which they will be coached by talent development managers who will help them become familiar with their jobs. Two talent development managers will work each shift.
“It’s a similar structure to what you would find in a typical coffee shop,” Fell said. “It’s just highly specialized because of the training we will be providing.”
After the employees complete the training program, they will work with the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and other local agencies to help them find employment elsewhere.
“The coffee shop is just the means,” Barber said. “It’s really about recruiting people with disabilities and getting them training over a certain amount of time and helping them transition out of here into employment.”
Some employees will be able to stay on staff at the coffee shop.
“For some people, this is going to be their landing spot,” Barber said.
Besides the job training, the coffee shop will help employees develop social skills.
“We want to be a place where individuals with disabilities can have access to community interaction and provide work and a fulfilling life for them in this setting,” Barber said.
Inspiration Ministries has been planning the coffee shop for about three years. The ministry considered other options such as a popcorn stand or art shop, but organizers felt a coffee shop would be the best fit for prospective employees.
“It will be a combination of hard skills and soft skills,” he said.