STRUTHERS — Habitat for Humanity Mahoning Valley is renovating its former office space in Struthers to make way for the Three Trees Cafe, a new project that will enhance the organization’s programs.
The organization got its start in 1989. In 2007, the organization opened The ReStore at Struthers and a second in 2013 at Columbiana, both of which offer new and gently used furniture, furnishings and building materials.
In 2017, it became Habitat for Humanity of Mahoning Valley and expanded to Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
Growth continues with the addition of a cafe that will do a lot in the neighborhood.
“It’s in the former office space connected to the ReStore that I’m building the café,” said Jack Sebest, who oversees the project. “We plan to sell used books, delicious coffees and teas, and possibly create a menu. We will start with simple baked goods and experiment with the menu over time. While we want to provide a great drink and a tasty bite, the cafe’s mission is to support Habitat for Humanity’s mission.
Sebest said the idea was his and had been in the works for some time. Sebest is from the Youngstown area and lived in Columbus for two years for seminary after graduating from high school. He studied philosophy in Columbus and completed his studies at home focusing on communication and nonprofit leadership at Youngstown State University. While at YSU, Sebest completed an internship at the local Habitat. Before graduating, he gave a presentation on how he would like to work with a non-profit organization that was doing things with food for the community.
When asked how he came up with the name Three Trees Cafe, Sebest replied, “Three Trees represents both our Christian side and our community side. We believe that Jesus died on the cross, having lived among us, next to two serious sinners. He has always worked with anyone and everyone to lead the way. These three crosses were more than likely on humble trees rather than the perfectly crafted cross we think of today.
“So having that mindset and working with the community to uplift everyone, I came up with Three Trees. It shows the light on the wood we use to build houses, it shows we’re a Christian operation. and that we strive to grow our community throughout Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana County.
LOVE OF FOOD
Sebest’s interest in food was something he developed early in life.
“I remember being obsessed with cooking from an early age,” he said. “My parents let me get creative in the kitchen from a young age and let me cook different things for them even after I made horrible dishes when I was 7. My family always put the The focus of the house is on the kitchen, as this is where we all cook, eat and talk together.
As a young man, Sebest worked in a non-profit cafe for a short time and learned to get by in a commercial kitchen.
“I love learning online and forcing myself to try as many things as possible when developing and working with different recipes,” he said. “I worked a bit in a catering company, in addition to cooking at home or at my girlfriend’s. So I always had a passion for food, but I developed it much more when I was going to school in Columbus. I didn’t like the food they provided in the cafeteria buffet line so I started cooking meals whenever I had time.
He said Habitat for Humanity of Mahoning Valley gave him the perfect job of developing a cafe for the organization.
Today, two years later, this project is underway. Habitat offices have moved from the ReStore facility at 480 Youngstown-Poland Road to Struthers a few blocks away at 1919 East Midlothian Blvd. The new location is called “The Hub”.
“We have worked hard to renovate the old church into our new office spaces and also use it to store lots of construction equipment,” he said. “We have a lot of big plans for the Hub. We will teach, whether it is finance, home repairs or cooking. We also want to build a tool library and run a repair program.
As for the Three Trees Cafe, it hopes to bring people into the world of Habitat. He wants it to increase the reach of the good that Habitat does.
“It’s as much about attracting people to the ReStore as it is about bringing new volunteers to the job sites,” he said.
Sebest said he saw a cafe in another state and visited it.
“After doing some research on nonprofit cafes, I found there was one in Charlotte, NC,” he said. “I even went to see and talk with the workers there. It was a very useful experience.
The first location is in Struthers, but if it takes off and hits its mark, it can definitely be something to consider in multiple locations. Habitat for Humanity Mahoning Valley also has a ReStore in Salem at 1965 N. Ellsworth Ave.
Sebest also mentioned that he works with local growers and roasters in the area and possibly has a gardening program. He said a garden plot is being prepared this year at the back of the cafe and will be ready for use next year.
Sebest recently spoke at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Canfield to reveal the new cafe. He was joined by Becca Simon, director of development for Habitat. She said that since the organization started, she has built over 140 houses and employs over 20 people.