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New cafe breaks ground in Peabody, in more ways than one

The aim: Good for business, good for people

November 28, 2016 : The Salem News, by Ethan Forman

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photosHost Amanda Summit helps a customer at Breaking Grounds Cafe in Peabody, a business run by Northeast Arc to help train clients for work in food service.

For 26-year-old Salem resident Amanda Summit, Northeast Arc’s new Breaking Grounds Cafe in downtown Peabody has offered a chance to work with people, make coffee drinks and learn new work skills on her way to independence.

“I like the people, I like to make the glaze for scones,” said Summit, who has intellectual disabilities and who works as a hostess at the coffee shop, whose motto is: “Changing lives, one cup at a time.”

The 2009 graduate of Peabody High had mostly stayed home for the past several years after graduation. Then she became involved with the Northeast Arc, a Danvers-based agency that works with people who have physical and intellectual disabilities.

This fall, Northeast Arc took over the space at 67 Main St. previously occupied by The Coffee Experiment, a pop-up cafe outfitted by the city in a former barber shop as a way to jumpstart activity downtown.

Summit, who wants to work in the food service industry, has already completed a nine-month program called Project Search at Salem State University, which provides internships on campus for people with disabilities, and helps them with job search and training skills. Summit worked with Chartwell’s, the company that provides dining services at the university.

Now, at Breaking Grounds, she is part of a ground-breaking endeavor for Northeast Arc, which has never run a restaurant or cafe before.

“The goal here is really to help people find out what part of the food service industry or customer service industry they really like,” said Tim Brown, Northeast Arc’s director of innovation and strategy, who oversaw the organization’s foray into food.

The cafe has quickly gained a following among a group of regulars who like the food and coffee, come in for the free Wi-Fi, or use the cafe as a gathering spot, Brown said. The food comes from Henry’s Market in Beverly and Phat Cats Bistro in Amesbury.

The idea is that once hosts like Summit find jobs elsewhere, Northeast Arc will bring in new workers to train. Summit also has a part-time job in Ipswich, and she is seeking to gain her independence by getting her own apartment. She also volunteers at the Brookdale Danvers senior living facility through another job exploration program at Northeast Arc.

“I love to work a lot,” she said.

The Square’s missing ingredient

The new cafe is part of the city’s plan to caffeinate the downtown and the Main Street corridor.

It comes after Main Street received a new layout designed to calm traffic, and Peabody Square was reconfigured to make it easier to navigate for both drivers and pedestrians.

Earlier this year, the city spent about $40,000 to outfit the cafe, after planners identified a coffee shop as the missing ingredient to the downtown. Money came from a $13,000 Community Development Block Grant, a $6,800 MassDevelopment Placemaking Grant, $10,000 in local funds, and in-kind contributions of plumbing and electric work to the tune of $18,500.

Salem-based Jaho Coffee and Teas was the original tenant for six weeks in the summer.

After Jaho left, the city’s Community Development office put out a request for proposals to seek a new vendor, and that’s how Northeast Arc became involved.

Brown says the agency signed a one-year lease with options to renew. He described the lease as “affordable.” Breaking Grounds held a soft opening on Oct. 18 and an official ribbon cutting on Monday, Nov. 21.

At first Brown was hesitant to take over the cafe, because while the agency operates several businesses to train those with disabilities, such as Heritage Caning, Heritage Shredding and Shine Jewelry, the agency did not do food.

But it soon became clear that running a cafe aligned with the agency’s mission of integrating those with disabilities into the community.

Breaking Grounds employs four people without disabilities and six people with disabilities. All employees are paid.

Peabody Community Development Director Karen Sawyer Conard said Northeast Arc was ready to open in less than a month, and so far, patrons like Breaking Grounds for its consistent hours and breakfast and lunch offerings.

“They couldn’t have moved faster to fit out the space,” she said.

Deanne Healey, president and CEO of the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce, said whenever downtown businesses were surveyed as to needs, the top suggestion was always for a coffee shop.

“This is why we are so excited with the city taking the lead with The Coffee Experiment and now Breaking Grounds,” said Healey. “I think this is the type of concept that is relatable right now with the younger generation.”

Not only does downtown Peabody finally have a coffee shop, she said, but when young people spend their dollars, they like that there is a socially responsible mission to go along with their lattes, chocolate chip banana bread and spiced chai.

Breaking Grounds is open Monday through Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday and Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and weekends, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.