One Bistro: Making a space for neighbors to eat

By Avonlea Brown

Outside, cars whoosh by and people bustle back and forth in front of the windows, leaves strewn on the sidewalk. Inside, the sounds of laughter and silverware on plates fill the little cafe. Booths and tables are filled with family, friends and strangers.  

In one booth a group of three girls share breakfast, in the next booth a group of old women eat and share conversation. Sitting at the community table in the middle of the room is a family of four with two children playing with toys while they wait for food, another table by the kitchen hosts an old man who smiles at all the volunteers that pass by. 

One Bistro is a community cafe on East Main Street, Xenia, Ohio, that is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. The inviting green exterior brings many curious guests to the non-profit, and the food and friendly atmosphere make them stay. 

“At One Bistro, our mission is to provide a place where our neighbors eat and come together as one community,” said Denise Davis, board president of One Bistro. “When we say there is a seat at the table for everyone, we really mean there’s a seat at the table for everyone regardless of what you look like, who you love, where you come from, how educated you are, what color your skin is. It does not matter to us.”

Biznistry® defines One Bistro’s model. They are simultaneously a non-profit business and a ministry.

Prayer is a huge part of One Bistro’s ministry. By the register, a string of white cards is pinned to the wall. The cards read “Pray it Forward,” customers are welcome to take a card and write their prayer request, and volunteers and fellow customers can then take that card and pray for that request. 

“Every morning in the cafe, our team prays together with the volunteers that are in there before we open the doors for service,” Davis said.

Currently, One Bistro pays two cooks and one manager. The rest of the duties are done by a host of volunteers that the community cafe relies on to remain open. 

“I love working here for the people,” said Karen, who began volunteering back in 2016 after hearing about it through her church newsletter. “I like the opportunity to serve and feel like I am doing something productive with some eternal value.”

Volunteers are encouraged to sign up online using the One Bistro website, but drop-ins are always welcome. 

“I try to volunteer whenever I can,” said Randy, another regular volunteer who found out about One Bistro during one of his frequent visits to Coffee Hub, the coffee shop next door. “Sometimes I’ll get a text from [the front of house manager] and it’ll ask if I can come in last minute to fill a spot for the day and I always say yes.” 

The volunteers can fill multiple slots: dishwasher, server, greeter or some qualified volunteers can help in the kitchen. Every position is important to the cafe, but the volunteers contribute the most to the mission of One Bistro when they walk around and talk with the guests.

Volunteers at One Bistro come in all forms, just like their customers. There are volunteers who have the time and want to give back to their community; there are volunteers who have busy schedules but still donate their time whenever they can; there are volunteers who come to fulfill a community service requirement from court or school; there are volunteers who work for a meal because that is the only way they can afford to eat. 

When someone comes in who cannot afford a meal, they can give an hour of their time in exchange for a meal. 

“That one hour really gives us an opportunity to start building and forming a relationship with that person,” Davis said. “They’ve just really felt accepted. They have felt safe. If somebody’s going to come in and work for food, they probably have other needs that could be met too. And once we start building a rapport and a relationship with them, we can help point them in the direction of other resources.” 

One Bistro is all about people, and their ministry succeeds due to the collective input from the many who are involved at the community cafe. 

“I could describe the whole mission and operation of One Bistro without attributing it to one person,” Davis said. “It’s the efforts of so many people put together that make One Bistro successful.”

On Wednesday nights starting at 5 p.m. and ending around 7 p.m., One Bistro holds a community meal where anyone and everyone can come to eat for no charge. The staff leads the guests in prayer and then begins serving the food, soon conversation fills the room. 

“We like to look at it as like family dinner because our cooks decide what we’re going to serve for the night, and then everybody eats the same thing,” Davis said. “And it’s like one big family in there, sharing the evening together and eating.”

One Bistro also sends meals to various other non-profit ministries in the Xenia area to encourage them; including organizations such as Toward Independence or Her Story. 

One Bistro strives to create a safe and inviting community inside the cafe, ministering to its customers through quality service and food. 

“Everybody deep down is looking for some sort of connection, something to belong to some sense of community,” Davis said. “They’re looking for acceptance, and One Bistro is a place that provides that.”

Hanging on the inside of the barn door on the right wall of the cafe there is a blackboard. It lists the meal plan for the community meal on Wednesday night, the sponsors of that meal and the volunteers that night and the daily specials, soups and desserts. On the left side is a record of how many meals were given away and volunteer hours donated. 

Every month the board is updated with hundreds more meals and volunteer hours. Each update to the board testifies to the work that One Bistro does and how it brings people together to serve their community. 

Avonlea Brown is a junior Broadcasting, Digital Media, and Journalism major from a small town in Maine. She is the co-editor of Campus News for Cedars Student News and currently working towards going abroad to study international journalism. She likes reading, travel, and learning new things.

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