Emergency Food Production Grant Helps I Am Café Pay It Forward
Lashawn Raybon, the owner of I AM Café, has done everything in her career from fashion design and Hip Hop, to administrative work and teaching Sunday school, but her real passion is cooking. Her family owned the Golden Lily Restaurant in San Francisco’s Fillmore District in the 1980s. The Golden Lilly was a welcoming cross between a juke joint and family style restaurant. She opened I AM Café last year, in part, to recreate that same cheerful experience, with music playing and good food everywhere.
Lashawn describes I AM Café as a coffee shop that doesn’t just focus on coffee. Her menu includes sandwiches, pork chops, hot links, salads, veggies, pound cake waffles, and much more. I AM Café’s “Sunday Beat Box Brunch” is a community favorite, with a full brunch, music, and lots of socializing.
Lashawn has been a partner, supplier, and friend of DSAL for years. Initially, she signed up to participate in Eden Night Live as a vendor selling her delicious deserts, called Cakes by the Pound. Lashawn also credits DSAL for helping find the space she currently leases for I AM Café.
“The Eden Area, DSAL, my True Faith BC family, and the Castro Valley Chamber have been major contributors to my growth from selling dinners and cakes and now a brick and mortar,” said Lashawn. “I feel like they are my biggest fans!”
Lashawn’s Café was open just short of a year when COVID-19 arrived. The crisis immediately halted the growth of her business and made everything more challenging.
“Business got really slow, and it was hard to get materials and supplies,” she said. “It was hard to walk into a grocery store and get the stuff I needed on a day-to-day basis. The community looked forward to live music at our Saturday brunch—our busiest day—because there's no other place in the area, and we had to postpone. It was hard to get ingredients, which made it hard to stay open. It’s been so unpredictable.”
Today, things are picking up for the I AM Café, due largely to the Emergency Food Production grant Lashawn received to prepare up to 1,000 meals for distribution to home-bound seniors, medically vulnerable patients, and families experiencing food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. The grant initiative was made possible through a partnership among DSAL, ALL IN Alameda County, and the Stupski Foundation, who provided $250,000 in seed funding.
“The grant was a lifeline,” said Lashawn. “It let me keep my doors open. I’ve been able to bring in help on Saturdays, and it also gives me flexibility to buy the ingredients I need to so I can still offer my main recipes.”
Lashawn is also taking advantage of the commercial kitchen at the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub to prepare her meals for the grant program. The prepared meals are then delivered to community members in need.
“It feels really good to be part of this program,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome to be able to serve.”
Lashawn, a community builder by nature, also wants I AM Café to be of service. One of her goals, when business gets back to normal, is to build a community space in the café.
“I want to do outreach to moms and have conversations with people who are struggling with parenting and incorporate community meet ups into the space,” she said.