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First-of-its-kind cafe in SLO helps formerly incarcerated get their lives back on track

Posted at 10:34 PM, Feb 03, 2023

The Central Coast’s first social enterprise café opened this week.

The Bridge Café offers paid career training to help people who have been in the justice system get back on their feet.

The new café on Higuera Street in Downtown San Luis Obispo is serving up much more than just food and coffee.

“Second chances really do happen,” said Heidi Hendrix, whose second chance came in the form of landing a job as a barista at the Bridge Café.

“It really helps someone’s confidence in getting acclimated back into society in a positive light.”

Hendrix started at Restorative Partners’ mentorship program and said that doors kept opening from there. Now, her life is back on the right track.

“It’s being able to stand up right now like this and have the courage to say ‘yeah, I was there but here I am now,’” said Hendrix.

Changing lives is what prompted Restorative Partners to open the Bridge Café and create opportunity.

“Many people with a background have struggled to get long-term jobs,” said Theresa Harpin, who founded Restorative Partners.

While working at the café, employees take courses in culinary arts at Cuesta College.

From there, Restorative Partners helps them get an internship and eventually a long-term job.

“It gives them encouragement. It gives us conversation with employers who want not just to get employees but keep good employees,” explained Harpin.

The ultimate goal is to keep people from getting back into trouble with the law.

“Many times, when they recidivate, they don’t have housing, they don’t have jobs. Those are the two big items that need to be addressed,” said Harpin.

Restorative Partners says that programs like this drastically cut the recidivism rate or the number of people who end up back in jail.

“Prior to COVID was a recidivism rate of 12 and a half percent,” explained Harpin. “When the going rate is more like 65 or 70 percent of those returning into custody, that is a very low recidivism rate.”

The Bridge Café’ is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Restorative Partners says it will take some time to track the success rate of the Bridge Café since it just opened, but those numbers will be released in the near future.