Hattie Larlham’s vocational program for adults with developmental disabilities will close two of its cafes this month.
The decision was a simple matter of economics: declining revenue.
When the doors close at Hattie’s Cafe & Gifts in Hudson on Dec. 31, ending a seven-year run, workers said they will be able to hold their heads high and know they did a good job.
“I am sad that the store is closing even though I’ve only been here for six months. I really like the work,” said 25-year-old Angelica Coleman. “But I’m excited to go to my next job doing clerical work.
“I’ll do a lot of filing, and I’ve done that before. I really like answering the phone. Sometimes I do that here. We just got finished packing [10,000] hot chocolate mugs for the Polar Express coming up.”
Coleman had transferred from the Canal Place cafe, where her duties were limited to food service. The Hudson location allowed her to experience some retail work.
In the 3,400-square-foot corner storefront cafe at 164 N. Main St., there is a gift shop and an additional seating room that could be rented out for parties.
Todd Davis, 45, also knows his next job site. He’ll be working in the preschool lunch program for Head Start housed in the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities building in Tallmadge.
“I like working here. I mop the floors, take out the trash and take care of the customers. I am sad the store is closing. I’ve been here two years, but I’ll still be working with Dan [Bond, the store’s manager]. I like working with Dan.”
The Hudson location was the first Hattie’s Cafe, opening in 2006. It employs 12 people in the vocational training program.
“We’ve been there for seven years, and we’ve never been even close to breaking even,” said Dotty Grexa, vice president of social enterprise. “We really just can’t seem to generate enough traffic there to get the revenue high enough to make a go of it.
“We’ve given it a good seven years, and during the course of that time our business revenue declined 48 percent and the customer count declined 34 percent,” Grexa said. “So it was not a decision we made lightly. We’ve been looking at it yearly, and the decline has just continued.”
She said the Hudson area presented a competitive environment with several restaurants as alternatives.
“We had our regulars. The customers who embraced the store were always supportive, but the store just couldn’t attract new customers,” Grexa said. “We tried different items on the menu, including pizza, but nothing seemed to work to reach other demographics.”
A second location, at the Stubbs Justice Center on South High Street in Akron, will close Dec. 20. The cafe is located on the top floor of the building that houses the Akron Police Department and Akron Municipal Court.
Opening three years ago, it is the smallest location of the seven cafes. It has two employees with developmental disabilities and a support staff.
“People use it depending on what’s going on in court,” Grexa said. “We have several vending machines in the building, and we feel those serve as a good alternative for that location. Customers can pretty much get anything that they could have gotten at the cafe in the vending machines between fresh food and snacks.”
As a nonprofit, there’s no reason to keep stores open when the numbers aren’t there, Grexa said.
The closings will leave four remaining cafes in Akron: two in Canal Place, at 520 S. Main St.; the Hattie’s Cafe & Gifts Bakery, which bakes goods for all the coffee shops, at 209 S. Main St., across the street from Lock 3; and at the Summit County Courthouse, 209 S. High St.
A fifth location, inside the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities building on Lakeside Avenue in Cleveland, is open only to agency employees.
“I think the message is we are looking hard at a point in time between that three- and five-year mark to determine whether we think we will be able to break even and be self-sustaining,” Grexa said. “And in the case of the two we are closing, the answer is clearly no.
“But the other locations we have are doing well, and we plan on keeping them for the foreseeable future.”
The number of people in Hattie Larlham’s vocational training and employment program has grown from six to a current workforce of 211 adults.
“In all of the closings, every single person has been offered a position at another location, so no one has been put out of work as a result of them,” Grexa said. “We’ve been able to expand and provide a wonderful service for those with developmental disabilities. Our program seeks to train them and then place them in a job in the community.”
Dan Bond, who has been in the food service industry for 20 years and manages the Hudson cafe, said it has been a feel-good job for him.
“Being able to help someone and seeing the satisfaction on their faces when they accomplished something makes it all worthwhile,” he said. “They really care about their job. They are excited to learn a new task and excited to be here.
“It’s been a fun and enjoyable place to work. This store has always had more of a family atmosphere.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.