By Martie Thompson
Beckie Schwartz is owner of Noah’s Agape Cafe in Fruit Cove, which will be celebrating its one year anniversary this month. The cafe, located just south of the Julington Creek Bridge on State Road 13, is a non-profit organization that seeks to offer those with intellectual differences a meaningful job. Patrons will find joyful and special employees who will serve them coffee, snacks, and sandwiches. Schwartz, who has lived in Florida since 1981, moved to NW St. Johns County six years ago with her husband, Sam, as well as the cafe’s namesake, Noah, who was born visually impaired with Down syndrome and autism. Noah is the youngest of the Schwartz family’s six children.
Q: What brought you to St. Johns County?
A: We were living in South Florida before we moved here. Our oldest daughter went to the University of North Florida, and we fell in love with this area when we visited her. She eventually married and had a baby, so we moved here six years ago to be closer to the grandchildren. We now have three grandchildren and one more on the way.
Q: What led you to open Noah’s Agape Cafe?
A: My parents gave me a small inheritance early and I knew, since I loved cooking and baking with my children, that I wanted to open a restaurant. I also knew I wanted to help the special needs community and be a source of meaningful jobs for them.
Q: How much have you learned since opening the cafe?
A: So many things! I’m the type of person who just jumps into things and then wonders what I got myself into. I do a lot of praying! When we originally found the location for the cafe, I had enough money to do the buildout and get the facility into working order. Then, with permits and licensing, we decided to take a leap of faith and put in a full kitchen so we could offer more than just “grab and go” food as originally planned. We had to take out loans to cover the costs. My thoughts at the time were: God’s got this. We can make it work. Plus, now we can offer culinary skills to our employees in addition to barista.
Q: What is the most fulfilling part of being the cafe’s owner?
A: I like seeing the kids (I know they’re actually adults, but to me they are my kids) grow. For instance, one girl didn’t know she could crack eggs — but she did and she made the eggs for the egg sandwiches that day. We offer on the job training for a variety of special needs schools in the area.
Almost every day my heart is warmed; people come in for the treats, coffee, to use our Wifi, and to hug our kids. Some customers actually come in just to get hugs from our kids.
Q: What place would you like Noah’s Agape Cafe to serve in the community?
A: I’d like it to raise awareness … the special needs community is capable of working. They want to feel useful and have a purpose. Everybody’s not the same and they have different tasks at the cafe based on their abilities. For instance, one man likes to just clean. Some like the water and want to wash dishes all day. Each one has something they can do — along with smiling at our customers.
[Editor’s Note: Noah’s Agape Cafe will celebrate its first birthday with a birthday bash on Sept. 9 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. The community is invited to attend the celebration, which will include a DJ, face painting, and a representation of other non profit organizations from the area. Visit www.noahsagapecafe.org or the cafe’s Facebook page for more information.]
Photo courtesy Beckie Schwartz
Beckie and Sam Schwartz with Noah.