ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — In November, we learned Community Café St. Pete was forced to close a few weeks before Thanksgiving.
Formerly located in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg, Community Café is one of several small businesses that provides a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.
Owner Mandy Keyes was hopeful she would find another location.
“The commercial rental market, a lot like the residential rental market in St. Pete, is really competitive and really difficult to find a spot that had a commercial kitchen in it,” she said.
As a temporary fix, Keyes decided to turn her business into a weekend pop-up cafe. She got the idea at an entrepreneur workshop and was encouraged to partner with a local church.
“A lot of churches have commercial kitchens that aren't really getting used,” she explained.
The biggest challenge for Keyes was to find a church that was accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. One of her colleagues in the entrepreneur group suggested she reach out to Allendale United Methodist Church.
"We thought this will be a really great opportunity because we are able to give them a home when they were kicked out of the place that they were in before," said Allendale's director of engagement, Tori Edwards.
"It's really important for us to share spaces with other social justice, organizations, other queer affirming organizations," Edwards added.
“Allendale is an incredibly LGBT diverse affirming congregation,” Keyes said.
Knowing that Allendale is accepting of all people made it easier for Keyes to start her pop-up café.
“The LGBTQ+ community is a huge part of who we are, of who we were in Grand Central District, but we will be no matter what area we end up as our permanent location,” she said.
When Keyes decided to move to the Tampa Bay area 10 years ago, she was looking for a place where she would feel accepted.
“I ended up finding out a lot about how gay-friendly St. Pete was and that's why I moved here,” she explained.
Keyes then launched Community Café St. Pete four years later with the primary goal of creating a safe space where people from all walks of life can “enjoy a meal.”
The coronavirus pandemic has made the search for a commercial space difficult for Keyes, however, she continues to remain optimistic.
“Sometimes when you are forced out of your comfort zone, or the only home your café has known for over six years, you find that you can do more in the community, by building partnerships with other organizations that believe in a lot of the same things that you do,” Keyes said.
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