A nonprofit group here called The Spokane Eastside Reunion Association (SERA) is working on opening a soul food restaurant in the former Flipper’s Ice Cream building at 3029 E. Fifth in the East Central neighborhood.
The 1,500-square-foot space, which has been vacant for years, is being remodeled to suit the restaurant’s needs.
Michael C. Brown, founder of SERA, says the organization came up with the idea of a restaurant as it was looking for ways of becoming more sustainable.
“It’s sometimes hard to keep asking people for donations,” Brown says. “We started as an annual picnic. It was a way for people who’d moved out of the neighborhood to come back and reunite with old friends and neighbors.”
The organization became a nonprofit in 2012.
Brown says the association would like to see the building completed and ready to open next year. He says SERA chose soul food, because it’s a type of cuisine the Spokane area is lacking.
“Spokane is kind of limited when it comes to Southern-style food,” he says.
While the restaurant will have a signature dish of seafood gumbo, Brown says the rest of the menu will be relatively simple.
SERA envisions the restaurant as a place where youth workers can gain experience in the restaurant business, developing a strong work ethic, and learning skills that will lead to future employment.
Brown says the organization presented the idea to the building’s owner, John Tormino, who then offered to sell them the property. Tormino owns Tormino’s Sash & Glass, a specialty window and door store at 102 N. Helena.
SERA purchased the building from Tormino for $55,000 and has started remodeling. So far, costs have totaled about $140,000. Brown estimates the organization will need to raise around $100,000 more to complete the space.
“We still have plumbing, cosmetic work, a new roof, restaurant equipment, and operating costs yet to consider,” says Brown. “We want to be able to go into this not owing anyone anything.”
The project’s corporate sponsor is Numerica Credit Union, with other businesses and businesspeople contributing through labor or donations, he says. Those contributors, he says, include Sheldon Jackson, of Selkirk Realty, Laura Becker, of Spokane Arts; Bernardo|Wills Architects PC; American Ironworks & Erectors Inc.; Gonzaga School of Business (Ken Anderson, Dean of Gonzaga School of Business); Architect Dan Schwalbe Inc., Spokane Restaurant Equipment; and Sonnenberg’s Market & Deli.
“Gonzaga’s art school along with Spokane Arts will also be painting the building and contributing a mural,” says Brown. “The Gonzaga business school administration students have also played a big part helping write a business plan, and all that stuff. We hope to continue working with them as we get closer to opening.”
SERA also hopes to receive a community development grant from the city to help with funding the rest of the project.
SERA provides a mentor and tutoring program for K-12 students that’s held at the Spokane Public Library’s East Side branch with volunteer tutors from local universities and Ferris High School. It also strives to provide lawn care and snow removal services for the elderly or disabled and hosts an eight-week summer basketball camp as well as an annual reunion event.
Brown, who has lived in the neighborhood for 55 years, says it’s all about giving back.
“At any given event, we usually have at least seven volunteers,” he says, adding. “Our basketball camp is the only one of its kind in the Northwest, providing the kids with shoes, socks, shirts, breakfast, lunch, and snacks.”
Of the new restaurant, Brown says, “It’s going to happen. It’s going to be something really great once we open up; that I promise you.”
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