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Find Your “Y” at Thrive Healthy Kitchen Grab-and-go nourishment in Salem’s newest “living room”

Written by Victoria Hittner on Mar. 29th, 2022
Featured Image photo for Find Your “Y” at Thrive Healthy Kitchen Grab-and-go nourishment in Salem’s newest “living room”

When construction is completed this summer, the Family YMCA of Marion & Polk Counties will house more than just exercise equipment and meeting rooms. Staff members hope it will be a home, for all members of the community.


“I heard one of our staff describe it beautifully: Salem’s living room. And I love that—that when you come in, there is an element of hospitality and belonging,” described Jessica Otjen, YMCA Resource Development Director. “I hope it becomes a warm, friendly, inviting place that people of all different ages are going to get to spend time in together and make connections.”


And like any home, food will be found at the heart of the YMCA. Thanks to an unprecedented partnership with IKE Box and Fresh n’ Local Foods, the east wing of the new building will feature Thrive Healthy Kitchen, a family-friendly café open to the public.


“We know food has a lot to do with building relationships and in breaking down barriers,” said YMCA CEO Tim Sinatra. When the original floorplans for a commercial kitchen were altered in favor of more early learning program space, Sinatra challenged community partners to get creative.


Evann Remington, CEO of Fresh n’ Local Foods, relished the opportunity. Remington and her team craft and distribute healthy school meals throughout the Northwest; when schools closed their doors due to COVID, Remington began looking for a new market to leverage her team’s expertise and distribution channels.


“[Tim Sinatra] and I have a long working relationship,” she explained. “So I called him and said, ‘Hey, what if I responded to this RFP but I didn’t put anything in it that you’re asking for?’ And so that was the pitch . . . What if we did something more flexible in that space—something self-checkout, grab-and-go, low footprint?”


The idea was exactly what Sinatra needed for the flexible, multigenerational gathering space. It was important to the YMCA team, that the café has the capacity to serve different community groups and needs throughout different times of the day. “In the morning, it might look like our senior community gathering together with their friends to socialize over cups of coffee or tea and snacks,” explained Otjen. “And then throughout the day, it may be families that are homeschooling, or it might be business community members that want to come in and plugin at one of our workstations . . . And then at two-thirty or three o’clock, that room will transition into a teen space.”


Remington and her team have pledged to fill a series of cold refrigeration cases with a variety of grab-and-go items for every palate and pocketbook. Busy patrons will have the opportunity to choose an item and pay at a self-serve kiosk, simply swiping their card as they exit.


For those looking to linger and enjoy a more traditional café experience, a full-service coffee bar—owned and operated by IKE Box and Isaac’s Room founders Mark and Tiffany Bulgin—will offer handcrafted beverages and treats.


The micro-café will be a new venture for all three organizations involved, but it’s a natural fit for each of their community-minded missions. That’s why Sinatra has offered to cover the initial investment of equipment and won’t be charging a lease.


“All I’m going to say is, ‘Come do a great job. Make it affordable for the community. Make it quality. And at the end of each quarter after you’re covering your costs and the associated margin you need, if there’s any leftover, donate it back to the Y,” explained Sinatra.


The unique business model requires trust and a deep desire to contribute to the health of the whole person—physically and mentally. People need a safe space to gather for social enrichment, just as they need healthy food to fuel their bodies. Seeing the café’s potential, PacificSource has also contributed as a financial partner.


Says Remington, “It’s about eating well, about living well, about exercising. It’s about social communities, about mental health—it’s about all of the things that are happening in that building at the Y. The food component is just part of the holistic approach to wellness.”


To be one of Thrive Healthy Kitchen’s first patrons when the new building opens, check out the YMCA’s website (www.theyonline.org) for the latest updates and information.

Victoria Hittner

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