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Happy Birthday, Good Day Café

by on August 15, 2019 5:25 PM

There’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee to give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. And that feeling is all the warmer and all the fuzzier when I’m consuming a cuppa Joe in my favorite State College café. Good Day Café, an employer of adults with intellectual disabilities or mental health diagnoses, is my happy place for great coffee, not to mention various breakfast and lunch foods.  

And so I want to help bestow congratulations on this Strawberry Fields enterprise, which opened Aug. 18, 2018. Happy Birthday, Good Day Café. As of this Sunday, you are one year-old and thriving! 

Yes, thriving, as all signs point to a robust future at 286 W. Hamilton Ave.:

  • In its first year, the café paid competitive wages for 1,100 hours of work by disabled adults.

  • Good Day Café boasts more than 2,100 followers on Facebook; nearly 7,000 customers have registered for its rewards program.

  • More than 30 individuals are now on the café’s waiting list for employment. And in an era that is marked by high turnover in the restaurant workforce, there has been no turnover in Good Day Café’s “barista back” position that is typically manned by those with disabilities.

  • The café achieved steady income growth in its first nine months until summer brought a slowdown. Additional growth is expected with the arrival of fall and the availability of a catering menu. 

  • Employees report satisfaction — no, make that “excitement” — regarding their opportunity to work in a fulfilling environment.

“This job has made me more self-confident and a happier person,” says an employee named Anya.  Her co-worker, Brooke, says, “I love this job; it means a lot to me.” Another café mainstay, Katie, notes, “When I come in, I’m excited to be here. I genuinely love it.” And another employee, Noah, offers this powerful comment: “I was made to be here. It makes me feel good to do my job.”

Of course, all of this enthusiasm has a way of spreading to the coffee shop’s clientele. And those who frequent the café are as pleased as punch to park for free and then to sip their coffee, tea or espresso drinks in Hamilton Square’s 49-seat coffee shop. Caffeine may help customers to tackle their day, but Good Day Café offers something that’s even better.

“There’s a sense of joy here,” says Dave Schuckers, a regular customer who retired after 33 years of working for Penn State. Schuckers, who served under Bryce Jordan, Joab Thomas and Graham Spanier as special assistant to the president for governmental affairs, smiles broadly as he says, “Look around. Have you ever seen a sad face here? No. The employees love what they’re doing. We love watching what they’re doing. And they turn out a real good product.” 


Michelle’s smile agrees with her sign; she enjoys working at Good Day Café.  (Photo by Susan Delafield)

*  *  *

Good Day Café is personal to me. For one reason, it stands on ground that was once owned by my dear father, a true gentleman who passed away in 1978. Dad operated a Gulf gas station on the corner of South Atherton Street and West Hamilton Avenue (now an auto repair service with a brand new building), and he also owned an adjoining motel, right where the café is now located. I’m pretty sure he would be delighted to see this inspirational store standing where he ran a motel in the 1950s and ‘60s.   

And two of the café’s original visionaries are my special friends. The first, Ellen Campbell, was one of my classmates at State High; she and her husband Jim have a son, Matthew, who has lived in a Strawberry Fields home since 1997. During a short vacation in New York’s Finger Lakes region, Ellen visited Sew Green, a reuse store in Ithaca that sells sewing and knitting supplies. As the Campbells drove home to State College, Ellen talked of little else beyond the potential of such a store. 

“We could do that for Strawberry Fields,” she kept saying to her hubby, “and we could create job opportunities for people with disabilities.” Her idea led to the 2015 founding of Strawberry Fields’ reuse store called Scraps & Skeins, but it also paved the way for Good Day Café — after some input from my other friend, Dr. Roy Love. 

Dr. Love is a special guy, even without the aura suggested by his name. Although my wife of 42 years, Kathy, is the main person to straighten me out, Dr. Love makes sure my spine is aligned through chiropractic adjustments. And he truly cares about the interests of his patients. Given that Cindy Pasquinelli, Strawberry Fields’ CEO, is another of his patients, Roy became a major booster of the agency, including Scraps & Skeins. When he saw “Bitty & Beau’s,” a fabulous coffee shop that is staffed by disabled adults in Wilmington, N.C., he decided a shop like that would fit in State College and Strawberry Fields could make it work.   

“I knew we could do this in State College,” says Dr. Love, “and I knew it would be incredibly successful.”  And so, the next time Cindy Pasquinelli came to his office, the good doctor insisted that she visit the website for Bitty & Beau’s. She did — after Dr. Love finished her adjustment — and she quickly made the entrepreneurial connection between the success of Scraps & Skeins and the potential of a coffee shop.    

*  *  *

Many hurdles still needed to be cleared, however, before Good Day Café poured java into its initial mug. First, the board members of Strawberry Fields had to be convinced, and they had some legitimate questions.  

“Well,” Cindy recalls, “what did we know about running a for-profit business? And what did we know about the restaurant business? And what about the cost — the huge, huge cost? It was going to take $240,000 just to start.”

But the board came on board rather quickly, and the next step was for Ellen Campbell to draft a written proposal to Centre Foundation, pursuing a “Centre Inspires” grant of $100,000. After that proposal received a favorable response, Cindy and the Strawberry Fields team made several presentations to Centre Foundation. There was a point where Cindy was absolutely convinced the attempt had failed, but she got a congratulatory call from the foundation one night in October of 2017. “I was stunned out of my mind,” she says. 


Katie, Brooke and Jessica are a happy threesome at the Good Day Café. (Photo by LaRae Fultz)

AMAZING COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Next, the Strawberry Fields board members matched Centre Foundation’s $100,000, then various local philanthropists offered funds (Bruce and Susan Heim began a summer garden party which has now reached $150,000 in total support for the café), and several generous in-kind gifts allowed the shop to open with no debt. Among those tangible gifts was the donation of all the flooring and tile by George McMurty, owner of America’s Carpet Outlet, and the free interior design work by Paula Cipar, a specialist owner of State College’s Morpheus Studio.

So amazing was the community’s support for the venture that two men with basically the same name were both heavily involved. 

“Rich Frank who was then with AccuWeather stepped forward, and he and his design team created the name, the hashtag and the logo, and they did it for nothing. The logo alone would have cost us $20,000,” Cindy explains. “The other Rich Francke manages University Park Plaza Association which owns the space where Good Day Café is located. He really acted as the general contractor for the buildout of the place, and they gave us so much up-front toward the cost. Both were huge, huge contributions.”  

WHAT ABOUT THE COMPETITION?

So much kindness, so much generosity. But surely a bad guy showed up somewhere along the way to heighten the drama. Maybe one of the competing coffee shops?  

No, actually, the area’s other java purveyors were extremely supportive. 

“Every other coffee shop in this town stepped up to help us,” Cindy says. “They’re rooting us on. Especially Jamie Bestwick, Ronnie Napolitan and everyone from Rothrock Coffee — they are our partners. They’ve been fabulous.”  (Rothrock people consulted with Strawberry Fields on selection of equipment, and they supply all of Good Day’s coffee.)

“Everybody in this community wanted this to happen,” says Cindy, a Strawberry Fields executive since 1985. Ellen, the former board chairman for Strawberry Fields, agrees. “This place has opened the heart of this community in an amazing way,” she says. “Everybody loves it.” 

HEART-WARMING STORIES  

Certainly everyone loves to see the thrilling development of individual employees. For example, Roy Love has taken note of the growing confidence of a worker named Anya, someone he calls “a personal miracle.” 

“When she first came to work at Good Day Cafe,” recalls Dr. Love, “she could not talk to me. She’d be cleaning up the café, and I would try to engage her and she would not. Then, after a month, she started engaging. Then, when she got moved up to barista training, she was just glowing. She was saying, ‘I’m training to be a barista, I’m training to be a barista.’ She was telling everyone.”

Ellen Campbell mentions another story of dramatic growth. She has known an employee named Todd for many years because he is one of her son’s roommates at one of the 12 group homes run by Strawberry Fields. 

“Todd has a multiplicity of issues,” says Ellen, “and one of them is some degree of autism. He doesn’t speak very well, and they’ve been working on helping him in projecting. So one day, I was sitting in the café and he had my order. He said my number and I could hear it, so I started to get up. Then someone said, ‘Todd, a little louder.’ And then it was clear as a bell. I thought, ‘I have never heard him speak that clearly, that loudly, and make eye contact. That was huge.

“I know a lot of these employees through my son,” she continues, “and it’s amazing to see the transformation — personal growth, speaking, eye contact. All of these things that you really need to function in society. It’s an amazingly transformational experience to have a job and be proud of that, to be dressed up, to come to work.”

My favorite chiropractor offers a similar perspective. “This is a place where you feel the love of helping people with disability,” says Roy Love. “Everybody wants to be gainfully employed — it’s a part of life.  Whether you’re a carpenter or a chiropractor, without that you lack a sense of worth. So if you’re going to buy coffee somewhere, why wouldn’t you do it here?”

A ‘HILARIOUS’ ENVIRONMENT

It seems that life transformation is a constant occurrence at Good Day Café, but perhaps that wouldn’t be happening without a store manager who is flexible and positive. Sharyn Angle is that kind of person, a restaurant veteran who was hired by Strawberry Fields many months before its opening last summer. 

Not only was Sharyn able to help shape the structure of the coffee shop, but she was prepared to flex with the personalities of its employees. If you ask her to summarize Good Day Café in one word, as I did, she’ll offer the word “hilarious.” Why?  “We come in and we laugh,” says Sharyn. “And when something goes wrong, I think we laugh harder. It’s a real work environment, but we joke and we laugh and we have a good time. It’s like, ‘Dude, what did you do—cutting that panini sideways?’”


Gareth and store manager Sharyn Angle enjoy a small mistake, the misspelling of “baked oatmeal.”  (Photo by Bill Horlacher)

A MEANINGFUL MILESTONE

So as the staff members of Good Day Café approach the store’s first birthday, how will they celebrate? Such a milestone would be worthy of a big public bash, maybe a ticker tape parade along College Avenue. But that would probably require a huge organization effort by people like Cindy Pasquinelli, Sharyn Angle and Fran McDermid, the woman who gives direct supervision to Sharyn. Those people probably don’t need a new task on top of the huge challenges they’ve handled during the last year.

Given that the big day falls on a Sunday, the café will be closed and Strawberry Fields will hold a private event for the café’s employees.  

“We’re going to celebrate the employees and make it very special for them,” says Cindy. But, she adds, “I think we’ve been celebrating all year long.” 

Indeed they have. Here’s how one of the café’s workers, Katie, would describe her feelings: “I think we’ve got a big sense of pride that we’ve not only been able to make it to a year, but we’ve been able to grow and thrive as a café and as a team. When I first started here, I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing at all, and now I can pretty comfortably do what I need to do.

“There were a lot of times when I wondered, ‘Am I ever going to be an independent adult?’ and I’m almost 22. But having this job, it helps me feel that I’m going to be fine. I’m fully capable of working a good job. This last year has absolutely changed me.”


Strawberry Fields CEO Cindy Pasquinelli cut the ribbon when Good Day Café opened in August 2018. (Photo by Chuck Carroll)



Bill Horlacher is a native of Happy Valley, a 1970 graduate of State College High School and a 1974 graduate of Penn State (journalism). He has spent his last 30 years in service to international students, helping them with personal, cultural and spiritual adjustments to America. After 39 years of living in California, Maryland and Texas, Bill returned to State College in 2013 along with his wife, Kathy.
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