Bridgette Johnson had been silently repeating the mantra that she wanted to open her own business as she drove past a historic building on East Cherry Street with a for lease sign in the window. She called the number on the sign that December evening in 2018, and continued to call until the owner picked up one fateful day last August. Overwhelmed by all the messages, the owner erased every one of his voicemails and decided to lease to the next person who called. Bridgette was that person, and the story of how she secured her inviting brick and mortar sandwiched between the Central District’s Garfield and Nova high schools, is just one example of her persistence and solution-oriented work ethic.
January 25, 2020 marked the grand opening of her new business Central Café and Juice Bar, an “eco-conscious café committed to urbanism and the preservation of our historic 1920’s building.” Centered on fresh-pressed juices, coffee and deli items, Central Café and Juice Bar opens at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays, catering to early-morning commuters who, Bridgette says, would otherwise likely turn to 7-Eleven for coffee at that hour. But juice and providing the neighborhood healthy grab-and-go food, is at the heart of the new café’s ethos. “My goal here really is to feed people good things quickly, because everybody is in a hurry. But, if you want to hang out, I’d love it!”
It took a lot of elbow grease and funding to transform the nearly century-old building into the vision of health and community that it is today. In the building’s former life, it had been a barbecue restaurant, and before that a record store. Bridgette, a self-proclaimed thrifter, artfully and economically created a cozy space from lighting, tables and tile she got from Second Use. Her cousin helped with some of the renovations, which included framing out the old barbecue – a creative solution that keeps a piece of the building’s history behind her kitchen wall. As a former boutique owner, her eye for design is apparent throughout the café with its wistful welcome mural, colorful couches and art deco-era architecture. “I love the history of the building,” says Bridgette who plans to hang black and white pictures she’s found of the building.
As a former Whole Foods manager with the business skills and passion to realize her small business dream, she needed additional capital to make it to the grand opening. “We went to conventional banks and we even went to our credit union asking for a business loan. What you’re seeming to find is that those places will not give you a loan unless you have three years in the business. What do new people, entrepreneurs do if they don’t have any money? Or for people that have a little bit like we did, to get the project going?”
“And if you’re only getting a loan for $500 when your espresso machine is a car, it doesn’t put you over that hump,” Bridgette continued. “To get it really going and get over that hump, somebody needs to give you a chance. And that’s what I think you guys do…It’s really hard for people to get started, so I just want to thank you guys for taking a chance.”
Bridgette’s enthusiasm for Central Café and Juice Bar is contagious. “I have all these little things in my brain that I want to do, and I can try it because it’s my shop!” she says. She’s also excited for her proximity to the neighboring high schools. “I just want to be inspiring. I just want these kids to look up and say ‘O.k. I can do something. I can try whatever I want. I can open my own business.’”
For information about Business Impact NW’s loans, visit businessimpactnw.org/about-our-loans.
Are you a business owner? Business Impact NW, The Food Innovation Network, Ventures Nonprofit and Craft3 are coming together on March 7th to bring you Food Biz Day: a day of insight, resources and product sharing, for new and existing food business owners. Learn from food business veterans at our Conference breakout sessions. Meet food buyers, investors and other food business owners. And share your product at our Marketplace! Visit businessimpactnw.org/fbd for more info and to register. #foodbizday