The Way Café closed its doors on Jan. 3 after months of dwindling patronage following the closure of the Family Hope Center at the Kenai Merit Inn.
The First Baptist Church of Kenai ran the café, which opened in June 2011. When the Family Hope Center closed on June 30, many of the café’s frequent customers moved out of the area, said Al Weeks, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kenai.
Weeks said since September the numbers have dropped dramatically. The café used to feed kids from the Boys and Girls Club until school started up. On Christmas Eve, volunteers prepared an evening meal, but nobody came.
“There were some nights we didn’t serve anybody,” he said. “We felt like it was time to temporarily suspend service until we can find the best way to meet the need.”
On December 10, the ownership of the small building housing the café changed hands. Kenai Merit Inn sold the building to Kenai Catering, which operates out of the inn. Weeks said the new owners, Steve and Bobbi England, had no factor in the decision to close the café.
“(The Englands) were very gracious to have us there free of charge,” Weeks said. “We had a great working relationship with them.”
Bobbi England said they donated all their leftover food from catering events to the café. Since the decision to close the café, she said the plan is to renovate the 50-year old building to expand their banquet facilities and open a dessert shop. Kenai Catering has been in business since 2009.
England said the plumbing and electrical wiring will all need to be brought up to code and the building will need a new roof. An opening date has not yet been determined, she said.
“We will need to gut it out to an empty shell but the location is phenomenal,” she said.
The Family Hope Center, a project of Love INC transitional living, ran out of funding and community support, which displaced more than 20 families from the Kenai Merit Inn. In a Dec. 25, 2013 article in the Peninsula Clarion, Leslie Rohr, the Executive Director of Love INC, said 22 of 24 families have found housing.
Volunteers from the Baptist church as well and other religious denominations from around the Kenai Peninsula cooked up low-priced and free meals for the homeless and several families who lived in transitional housing. Weeks said during the early part of the summer, they fed up to 30 people each night.
The location of The Way Café no longer seemed suitable since the Family Hope Center closed down and families moved out and scattered around the Kenai Peninsula, Weeks said. With most of their regular patrons without reliable transportation, Weeks said the church has been looking for ways to bring the food to people who need it and have considered a mobile kitchen.
“We still have plenty of food that has been donated to us and we would like to make some food baskets to families in need,” he said. “If they can’t come to us we will bring the food to them.”
Weeks said his church is also in touch with other mission organizations around Alaska and is planning to serve free food in area parks next summer. He said if any families are in need of free food to call the First Baptist Church of Kenai at 907-283-7672.
“We are committed to feeding the homeless,” Weeks said. “We are not giving up the ministry.”
The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank also welcoming anyone hungry to come eat for free. The Fireweed Diner is open Monday-Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.