Hope Cafe Helps Those in Need, Offers Travel-Inspired Flavors

Conversation comes easy for Matthew Cullipher. When he isn’t behind the counter of Hope Café in Liverpool, he’s mingling, talking to patrons who stop in for the famous food made for a common purpose – to help those in need.

For Cullipher, the call to help others came in 1999 while visiting Peru to build a school. At the time he wasn’t looking forward to going overseas. He was already doing work in the inner cities of Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Camden and thought he had seen it all.

“I saw poverty in the cities and thought, ‘How much worse can it get?’” said Cullipher. “But when I went overseas, I could not fathom what I was seeing.”

Cullipher explained that he saw many people without any shoes rummaging through weeks-old trash for something to eat. Occasionally, he said, they would find recyclables – a big find worth two to three cents.

“You have two choices when you see that kind of stuff,” said Cullipher. “You can come back and do what most of us do, be pretty scarred for a week or two and then go to Delmonico’s and get a nice steak dinner and forget about it. Or you can let it impact you. It honest-to-God changed me.”

When the Peru school was built, the student turnout far exceeded Cullipher’s expectations. More than 120 children showed up. Before he knew it, his group was providing three meals a day, clothing, sneakers and a meaningful education to each and every child that walked through its doors.

“I told the group I was with that we needed to do something more,” said Cullipher. “I encouraged everyone to chip in $20 a month to help give these kids a few meals a day and somehow, we ended up forming a charity. That’s how The People Project came to be.”

The People Project soon made its mark overseas, expanding in Peru, Pakistan and Kenya. In Peru, there are now six autonomously run soup kitchens thanks to its work, and the original school is coming up on its 13-year anniversary.

In late August of 2017, The People Project opened up an international coffee house, Hope Cafe, in Liverpool. Its mission is not only to support the work of The People Project overseas, but to also focus funding in Central New York. The money raised by the cafe supports those struggling with substance abuse, at-risk youth, New Americans, single mothers and people in need. The nonprofit works hand-in-hand with local refugee organizations, Teen Challenge and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

The cafe is nestled in the Liverpool Village Mall, across the street from The Retreat restaurant. The menu is eclectic: a cornucopia of Peruvian, Italian and American.  It has become a go-to spot for those that want to give their taste buds a jolt of exotic flavors.

Initially, people were hesitant to stop in during lunch because food production was slower than expected. That was before its new kitchen equipment and display were installed. The items were made possible through a Community Foundation grant.

“Our business pace has been significantly higher,” said Cullipher. “Thanks to the kitchen equipment and display, the amount of desserts that we have sold has tripled over the last month-and-a-half. Our lunch business is stronger because we can cook and serve the food faster.”

The Cafe was recently voted best new restaurant by the Syracuse New Times and needless to say, business has picked up.  100 percent of the restaurant’s profits go to charitable work in Central New York and across the globe.

While mentioning the uptick in activity, Cullipher was quick to also acknowledge his volunteers. He recognizes the staff as people who genuinely want to do good.

“They are a phenomenal crew,” he quips. “There’s so much love put into the food. The ‘thank yous’ we get are so worth it. When people come in and tell us this is the best sandwich they’ve had – or this is the best drink they’ve had – it’s such a great feeling.”

The all-volunteer staff consists of 12-15 rotating members, many of whom are either retired or stop in for a shift after working full-time. They are often busy in the kitchen, preparing the wide-range of items on the menu. Once ready, they emerge from the back, with smiles on their faces, to deliver the latest goods knowing in the process that they are touching the lives of many who need hope outside of the restaurant’s walls.

“It’s just a different environment here,” said Cullipher. “Knowing that people’s lives are being impacted is so satisfying. Nothing compares to knowing that you’re helping someone.”

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