Clifton’s Nonprofit Peace Café Offers Breakfast, Lunch and Job Training Opportunities

Helmed by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, this ministry works with those in need

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click to enlarge Exterior of Peace Cafe - Photo: Paige Deglow
Photo: Paige Deglow
Exterior of Peace Cafe

Peace Café, a nonprofit job training and placement restaurant in Clifton, is interested in feeding more than people’s bodies. Founded by Pastor John Suguitan of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Over-the-Rhine, Peace Café takes an increasingly familiar model of outward-facing ministry — focused on utilizing the food-service industry as a betterment tool for those in need — to the next level. 

“Matthew 25 says feed the hungry, clothe the naked, but when you just give stuff away, you enable people to remain in that position,” Suguitan says. 

“We’re not going to stop giving stuff away — we always will — but we need to do more than that, as the church, as the body of Christ. So helping people transform their lives, that’s sanctification. Transformation or sanctification, we play a part in that — it just takes some equity.” 

Prince of Peace has walked the walk, so to speak, for decades. Suguitan ticks off a list of the services offered by the church: free meals for the homeless, including Saturday and Sunday breakfasts; Narcotics Anonymous meetings; kids’ church meetings; and more. During the winter months, the church opens to the homeless as an overnight shelter. 

Suguitan spent over two years planning Peace Café and was inspired to create the restaurant after attending a Lutheran-affiliated conference in Austin, Texas a few years ago where numerous other pastors and churches spoke of their own food-service-related community initiatives. One pastor spoke of a half-church, half-brewery; another had started an auto dealership and repair shop; and several mentioned coffee shops. 

Ministry-and-food outfits are no stranger to Cincinnati: Rohs Street Café, also in Clifton, is affiliated with University Christian Church and shares the same building; Venice on Vine in Over-the-Rhine was founded by two nuns in 1986 and continues to operate to this day; BLOC Coffee Company in Price Hill is an extension of BLOC Ministries; and Social OTR operates in partnership with CityLink Center to provide similar hands-on job-placement training as Peace Café. 

Suguitan recalls thinking after the Austin conference that people need jobs and they need education to get jobs. “I thought it was just going to be a coffee shop,” he says. “But God opened the door when I was looking for a restaurant manager...through Cincinnati Cooks and Freestore Foodbank and they turned me onto Berenice Torres, who used to be a manager at Venice on Vine.” 

Job placement is provided by JobsPlus. Suguitan didn’t want to “reinvent the wheel” of job placement training already underway in the region, and by partnering with JobsPlus, Peace Café is able to employ two stipend education fellows at a time. 

click to enlarge Interior of Peace Cafe - Photo: Paige Deglow
Photo: Paige Deglow
Interior of Peace Cafe

Part of the City Gospel Mission, JobsPlus offers 10-week classroom training for individuals seeking industry employment. After the classroom, Peace Café — or any of the many other affiliated organizations and companies in Cincinnati that hire graduates — provides an in-house restaurant training experience. Stipend education fellows work part-time for Peace Café for anywhere from six months to a year (“as long as Berenice thinks they need to be trained,” Suguitan says) before being placed full-time with a restaurant. 

Matt Deremo, one of the two current stipend education fellows, works four days a week at the café, alongside Torres, Suguitan or one of the many volunteers that comprise the staff of the restaurant.

“I was a computer science major, did that for 30 years; had a little transition in life called a divorce (and) ended up down at City Gospel,” Deremo says. “They hooked me up with Pastor John. All of those experiences have just been very positive.” 

Suguitan hopes to one day soon have the opportunity to bring on a third stipend education fellow. Currently, Peace Café is funded through three grants through the Lutheran Church. 

“The idea would be to someday not even need the grants because our own sales pays for it,” Suguitan says. “It takes a while to build the business, but right now we’re growing, so that’s good.” 

Peace Café sources meat and fish from local West Side company Wassler Meats and utilizes Restaurant Depot for other staples. The menu, created by Torres, consists of several inexpensive breakfast and lunch options. Peace Café is open every day except Sunday and serves breakfast all day. 

On a recent visit, I tried the standard breakfast sandwich: a hefty tangle of not-too-crispy bacon, just how I like it, an over-medium egg and cheddar cheese on two slices of wheat bread, with a dab of mayo and mustard. It was good and filling, and for only $3, hard to beat for the amount of food. Other breakfast offerings include pancakes — a fluffy stack for $2 — and à la carte sausage, bacon and eggs. Omelets are made to order, veggie or meat, and pastries are available, too. Lunch options include burgers, veggie burgers, quesadillas, grilled cheese, Filipino lumpia and chicken tortilla soup. As befits a Cincinnati restaurant during Lent, Peace Café offers a daily fish fry, serving up two hearty fried fillets with a large side of fries for $6. 

Peace Café also acts as a plant for the Prince of Peace church, offering Bible study and community fellowship on Wednesday evenings. Suguitan would like to see the restaurant continue to grow and has his eyes set on catering opportunities to stabilize their revenue. The heart of Peace Café, though, remains the concern for the less-fortunate in the community. 

“We’re outwardly focused. We do all this stuff outside,” Suguitan says. He quotes Isaiah 58 from the Bible, which calls out those who practice false fast or false worship — essentially, talking the talk, but not walking the walk of compassion for members of the community. 

“We just follow the Bible, that’s all we try to do. So if you want to help somebody, fine, give stuff away, but what we want to do is more than that, and that is to help them help themselves. Not a hand out, but a hand up.”


Peace Cafe is located at 2518 Clifton Ave., Clifton Heights. More info: poplcmscinci.org/peace-cafe.html.



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