Sunrise Project to open nonprofit coffee shop next month as welcoming gathering spot

The food-focused non-profit Sunrise Project is slated to open its new coffee shop, Sunrise Coffee, at the former Sunrise Garden Center property, 1501 Learned Ave., early next year. The shop will sell brews from Lawrence-based Repetition Coffee, teas, smoothies, Italian sodas and pastries, with a plan to eventually serve sandwiches, soups, salads and other lunch options.

For several years now, Melissa Freiburger and her friends have been slowly but steadily rehabilitating an old storefront into a usable, welcoming space for workshops, community meals and other programming. Now, thanks to one anonymous donor’s sizable gift, the Sunrise Project crew will soon be able to see the fruits of its labor.

The nonprofit plans to open a coffee shop in January at its indoor site, 1501 Learnard Ave. Freiburger, Sunrise Project’s director of programming, said the café would serve as a “community hub” providing not only locally sourced brews, baked goods and other treats, but also educational and career opportunities for area youth.

“We’d always hoped to be able to open some sort of coffee shop or café at the front, but with all the expenses of renovating and getting the site, we didn’t know when that would happen,” Freiburger said.

Fundraising launched more than two years ago for an approximately $70,000 renovation to the former Sunrise Garden Center property, with that money earmarked for new classroom and kitchen spaces. After receiving an anonymous $75,000 gift this past summer, however, Freiburger and her team have been able to move ahead on their shelved café project, aptly named Sunrise Coffee.

They’ve hired a full-time manager, trained pastry chef and longtime Sunrise volunteer Sybil Gibbs to supervise shifts and help develop the menu. The shop will serve Lawrence-based Repetition coffee and selections from Kansas City’s Hugo Tea Company, in addition to Italian sodas and smoothies.

All proceeds from the shop will go toward Sunrise Project programming.

“As far as food, right now we’re planning on doing quick lunch options and some pastries for mornings — simple stuff that people can get quickly,” said Freiburger, who hopes to work with Sunrise Project’s on-site farmers in supplying the café.

Gibbs is still working on putting together a lunch menu, but said it would likely involve simple, wholesome stuff like sandwiches, salads and soups. The space itself will seat about 40 people, with some additional seating planned for the Sunrise site’s greenhouse and patio area when the weather warms a bit.

A key component of the Sunrise Project’s mission is educating the public (especially young people) about growing, processing, selling and cooking their own food. In that spirit, Freiburger hopes to eventually establish a culinary internship program for local youths, with students using the on-site classroom kitchen to bake pastries that would then be sold in the coffee shop.

Another internship program, open to all ages, would offer barista training.

“The idea is that we’re making it a home away from home,” said Freiburger, who envisions Sunrise Coffee as a welcoming gathering space “where people of all ages, all backgrounds feel comfortable and welcome.”

Sunrise Project volunteers are currently collecting donations for the coffee shop, with mugs, saucers, small plates, wooden chairs and bar stools among the suggested items. Freiburger is also asking neighbors to donate books, games and puzzles to the café’s “empowerment library,” which she hopes to stock with literature on social justice, skill building and other topics related to Sunrise Project’s mission.

In the future, as Sunrise Project expands, staff hopes to add playground equipment and other amenities for young kids and their families.

“We really want to be accessible to all members of our community, so we’re really hoping to have kids coming in before they head to school,” Gibbs said of nearby Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, Lawrence High and Cordley and New York elementaries.

As of Wednesday, Gibbs hadn’t set hours yet, but hopes to have the café open early in the mornings (7 a.m. or earlier) to accommodate commuters on their way to work and school. Opening day is slated for mid-January at this point, though Gibbs said she’ll post updates on the Sunrise Project Facebook page as plans become finalized.

“Our hope is that people come in, get a cup of coffee and then see the workshops we have going, and there’s a real connection between the café-coffee shop and all of our programs,” Freiburger added. “That it gets people here, that it gets people connecting with each other.”