Cape Coral's Hidden Gems: Pops Cafe
Many times we hear about these different things from the people we talk to or while doing a story on another subject. Such is the case with this “hidden gem”. During my visit to the Special Populations Center, I was told about Pops Café. Pops Café is the restaurant located in City Hall. Now I have heard of Pops Café, even eaten there, but I never connected the two places together. I, like many, thought Pops Café was named after an old timer who may have worked there for years nicknamed “Pops”. Not too much of a stretch when you think about it, as I am sure we all know someone in our life nicknamed “Pops”. As a matter of fact, I have even reached the age where my 20 year old son calls me “pops”, but that is another story for a different day.
Pops Café is actually an extension of Cape Coral’s Special Populations Program. The Café will celebrate its 10 year anniversary this June. To think Pops Café is just a restaurant or cafeteria inside city hall would be a mistake, “The café is a teaching cafeteria where adults with learning disabilities learn the skills and proper methods of running a food establishment,” says café manager Connie Schweinberg.
Currently 20 members of the special populations program have been trained, received their Florida Safe Food Handling Certificate and rotate working in the café four to five days a week, “Not only are they learning valuable skills in the work place, but also are taking safe food and hygiene practices with them to use in their everyday life,” said Schweinberg.
The Café is also staffed by three to four employees who help the group through their day. One such person is Jill Koza, who is the Instructor Counselor for the program. Jill has built a very strong bond with those in the program. While I was interviewing Jill for the story, a group came in to start their shift. One by one each made sure to come up to Jill, say hello and give her a hug. Something that you could tell touched Jill, “These are amazing people that I get to spend time with. Watching them here interacting with the average person is something else. It is an education for both sides.”
What many may not know because of the café’s location is that it is open to the public. You can come in for breakfast which is served from 7:30am to 9:30am Monday through Friday or stop by for lunch from 11:00am to 1:00pm any weekday. The food at the café is a story in itself. Whether it’s a Philly cheese steak, soup, salad or one of Connie’s famous pies, you can rest assured that it was made from scratch, as with most of the food served at the café. All of the food is served at affordable prices as well. Most items are under $5 and they also have daily $5 specials for meals.
Due to the reduction in city staff over the past couple of years, the café has lost a good number of its base customers. This has caused the café to become more creative in finding ways to generate revenue. One such way has been to load a cart with $1 items and take them through city hall selling sodas and snacks to city employees between the breakfast and lunch shifts. The cart has been received positively by both the café and the city employees, who have taken full advantage of the “desk side” service. When snack break is over the cart is then stationed on the first floor of city hall for those coming into city hall to take advantage of. The cart is manned by one of the program’s participants. On the day I visited the café it was Michael’s turn to hold down the cart, a job which he truly enjoys, “I love everything about the cart, getting coffee, sitting at the table, it’s all great!”
Due to the losses in revenue there has been fear the café may be shut down. Something Jill shutters to think about, “This is the biggest part of their life. It’s like college for them. This gives them a good day, a good week, a good life. It makes them feel productive. If it goes away it’s gone.”
The café is reaching out to the public, hoping that you as residents step forward to assist in continuing this great opportunity for those involved in the program. The next time you’re looking for a place to go to lunch or if you stop by city hall, stop in and order a meal made from scratch from Pops Café. Not only will you enjoy a great meal at a great price, but you will also be helping out those in our community who need your help. You will also see firsthand why Pops Café is truly one of Cape Coral’s Hidden Gems.
If you think you know someone, something or some place that is a “hidden gem” email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You never know you or someone you know could be the next Hidden Gem of Cape Coral.