Cafe the Lodge

Cafe the Lodge

You’ll likely have a hard time removing your eyes from the breakfast menu—scrambled eggs with feta and sun-dried tomatoes, spiced brûlée oatmeal, and homemade granola—or the Cuban pulled pork panini, buffalo chicken wrap, and vegetable minestrone for lunch. But through the temptations and desire to eat well, you might miss the subtle reminders that Café the Lodge is much more than a place to enjoy a chef-inspired meal.

If you take a moment and look up from your plate in the dining area, you’ll see why.

Portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Robin Williams on the colorful walls symbolize that mental illness is not a barrier to success and can be overcome. They are the guiding principles that uplift the people who work at the restaurant as they seek hope and a path to recovery.

An extension of the housing services provided by Mental Health Recovery Lodge of Northampton County, the nonprofit cafe opened in 2012 to provide meaningful vocational employment opportunities for residents who learn under master chef Allen Singer how to prep food in a timely manner or become cooks, baristas, and hosts.

“Here’s a supportive place where people can come to work through their mental illness and learn marketable skills at the same time,” says Ian Panyko, who started in December as the new director of the Lodge, a perfect match for someone with a degree in clinical psychology and a background as a restaurant cook.

“This is an authentic cafe that’s run just like any business,” Ian says. “Everyone is expected to pull their weight and take responsibility for the work they perform.”

Their wages help offset the costs of housing, which is offered by the Lodge, he says. Residents pay 39 percent of their rent, while the rest is subsidized. The Lodge provides shared adult housing for up to 12 adults within the neighborhood surrounding the main brick building.

“Chef Allen interacts so well with the residents who work with him and learn. He’s demanding and exacting, but he understands that they’re here to overcome their struggles and find a way back,” Ian says. “The cafe helps residents learn how to live successful, healthy lives on their own.”

About 15 employees staff the cafe six days a week to prepare breakfast and lunch. Café the Lodge also offers breakfast and lunch catering for a 10-person minimum. Lodge residents are not required to work at the cafe, but it’s always an option for them when jobs become available.

“The food that comes from the kitchen is simply fresh and amazing—the egg scrambles, the homemade muffins and award-winning soups, and the burgers and paninis,” he says. “Everything is well-priced.”

Situated in thriving South Bethlehem, Café the Lodge shares its neighborhood with an already energetic fine dining and cultural district, which complements the music and visual arts programs that are open to the public. Students from the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts present their literature arts programs at the restaurant on the second Friday of each month.

“There’s just solid community support already, and we want to continue to explore other resources to enhance our services,” Ian says. “We have regulars who love coming here for breakfast or lunch. We’re known for fast service at lunch, which is why we get a lot of business professionals who appreciate a great lunch in 10-15 minutes.”

For the Lodge residents who prepare the meals, brew the freshly roasted coffee, and welcome guests, Café the Lodge has been a lifesaver.

“I was doing drugs and a lot of self-medicating,” says Greg Dutt, who came to the Lodge last fall after hearing about its programs while staying at the Hope House in Bethlehem Township, which supports adults who are in crisis due to mental illnesses.

“It’s been such a blessing to work here, a new beginning for me with real options and a chance to succeed,” says Greg, a barista who serves coffee and prepares lattes and cappuccinos. “What’s important to me is the ability to interact with fellow members of the community.”

Originally from Wind Gap, Greg says Café the Lodge has taught him the independence and responsibility that come from maintaining and renting an apartment, all while learning valuable food service and hospitality skills.

“The staff here, they really have a heart and can look into your face and know what’s going on,” Greg says. “I’m now drug-free and clear-headed. I got over the hump, thanks to the staff, and am already working to earn my GED.”

Exzeria Rehm says the Lodge provided her with a supportive, non-judgmental refuge as she struggled with transgender issues.

“The staff is very open and accepting,” says Exzeria, who helps coordinate poetry readings, open mics, and musical performances on Friday nights. “My plan is to live on my own, and I can’t think of a better place to help me on my journey. They’ve helped me in countless ways.”

The message to the community and people in need is clear, Ian says.

“This is a powerful program for people who are invested in it and willing to learn new skills,” he says. “Like in any job, you’re expected to come to work on time. But while you’re here, you’ll be embraced while picking up skills that can last a lifetime.”

Café the Lodge
427 E Fourth St

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