Following the April departure of its founder and executive director, Lyn Harwell, Seeds Community Café announced Aug. 7 that it would permanently close its doors. Seeds, a downtown nonprofit, included a catering arm and other programs and would provide meals to anyone regardless of ability to pay. Those not able to afford their meal could work at the restaurant to pay their debt.
Harwell stepped down from the board amid allegations of improprieties, to include purchasing personal items with the nonprofit café’s money. The nonprofit’s board, at the time, said the café was more than $92,000 in debt, a number that climbed to more than $100,000. Harwell said he departed Seeds to pursue a social enterprise eatery, CrEATe, inside the Manitou Art Center in Manitou Springs.
“After more than three and a half years of impacting Colorado Springs working to solve hunger insecurity, transforming lives through training and education and building a sense of community, Seeds Community Café closed its doors Friday Aug. 4 for its last service,” a news release from the organization stated.
According to Gene Tanski, president of Seeds’ board of directors, the nonprofit had received grants in recent months that would have gone toward expanding operations.
“We we’re making progress, but progress is never as quick as you want it to be,” Tanski said, adding debt payments outweighed revenue. “There were a couple grants we thought would come through that weren’t huge, but enough to extend us the three or four months we needed to break even.”
Tanski said, following the departure of Harwell, many grant-makers were less eager to contribute until they saw the café on solid footing.
“And I don’t blame them,” Tanski said.
A total of five employees will be impacted by the café’s closing, according to Tanski, who said the board will begin to create a comprehensive plan to tie up loose ends, which could be completed before the end of August.
“Right now it’s about creating the softest landing,” he said. “There’s no plan to try and revitalize or redo a Seeds part II.”
Jennifer Bostick took over as executive director following Harwell’s departure. The release stated that Bostick and the rest of the board “decided that Seeds was not financially sustainable in part due to past financial decisions coupled with lack of donations and customer traffic.”
Bostick, in the release, said closing was “one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. We have had such a great relationship with the local community, businesses, food growers and producers. Everyone involved with Seeds is dedicated to reducing food insecurity around the world and we believe the best way to impact that is through locally grown initiatives. Our customers, volunteers and donors have truly transformed numerous lives since the inception of Seeds and we are hopeful that someone will pick up the torch in Colorado Springs.”
Bostick told the Business Journal in June that she, along with several other employees, weren’t being paid regularly and that she was owed thousands of dollars in backpay.
“There are still several avenues for our volunteers to support the local community, and we hope that those who have helped us will continue to take the time to give back,” Bostick said in the release. “Our wonderful customers also were involved in our mission and we hope they will continue to support Colorado Springs by choosing to spend their dollars locally. We would like to thank all of our supporters and diners and appreciate everyone who believed in our mission.”
Tanski said the result is “heartbreaking.
“It seems another month and we would have gotten there,” he added. “But even if we did get there financially, this took such a toll on key people. There was so much time and effort going to paying off debt — every positive thing that happened there was a specter of debt to pay off. People were here to address food insecurity and help others fight their way out of poverty, but that’s not where the time and effort and focus was, and that drains people.
“It’s heartbreaking and frustrating, but it’s also a little bit of a relief, as strange as that sounds.”
A request for comment from Harwell was not immediately returned.