by Nat Frothingham
When it comes to feeding Montpelier’s homeless and hungry people, George Estes is doing a lot more than talking the talk—he’s walking the walk.
On January 12, Estes opened his new “Open Hands Café” in the Parish Hall of Christ Episcopal Church, across the street from the post office in Montpelier. The new café had been in the works since last August, when Estes first suggested the idea to Paul Habersang, the minister of Christ Church.
Estes, a big, genial fellow, now in his50s, brings a wealth of food and business experience to the Open Hands Café project. During a visit to The Bridge office, Estes discussed his varied work experience”
“Well, I’ve been a self-employed contractor,” he said. “My contracting company was called ‘We Can Do It Construction.’ and I also had a vending company [in Montpelier] called ‘Out Doggin It.’ That was a hot dog vending business in front of Christ Church. I usually started in May and ran through September,” he said.
Estes was 27 years in front of Christ Church. “It was very successful,” he said. “My two sons ran it as a business. They were vice presidents. I was president. They got a kick out of being vice presidents. Their view of things was this, ‘My dad tells us what to do, but we’re really doing it.’”
“Over the years of having the hot dog business, I’ve noticed a lot of homeless people and people in need who don’t have as much as other people.” In running the hot dog business, Estes said, “I used to give away a lot of food—hot dogs, chips, burgers—usually what was left over at the end of the day. Instead of throwing food out, I offered it to people walking by.”
According to Estes, times have changed. “I’m seeing more and more homeless people and people in need over the past three or four years.”
Then, he offered his own analysis of what’s really happening. “It’s weird how the [State of Vermont] reports that unemployment has dropped. I think unemployment has stayed the same, and the benefits have run out, and people are no long being counted in the system. The State may tell you that unemployment is down. But benefits are depleted and people are struggling to find a place to stay and even find a meal.”
Then Estes returned to that part of his story when he went in and talked to Paul Habersang, minister at Christ Church. Estes launched his idea, saying: “Paul, might there be a way for me to open a café at the church to benefit the community.”
Paul answered, “What are you proposing?”
“I said ‘I’m proposing a breakfast café at a reasonable price. If they don’t have cash, they can have oatmeal, toast and coffee. Or they can buy a breakfast. Two eggs and toast is $3.Then I have omelets at $6 with vegetables, and we can add on bacon, cheese, ham and sausage for an additional cost.”
Estes continued explaining his proposal to Habersang. “The whole community can be a part of this. We will have a Good Samaritan program. You can come in and have a breakfast and contribute something so that someone else can have a breakfast.”
“I’m calling this the Open Hands Café,” said Estes about Montpelier’s newest breakfast spot. “It’s open to the public. We start at 5:30in the morning and end at 11 am. That’s Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.” The café isn’t open on Wednesdays because Christ Church puts on a soup kitchen on Wednesdays.
When asked about community reaction to the new café, Estes said. “The reaction has been overwhelming. We’re getting a spread of people including people who used to have breakfast at the old Coffee Corner, including homeless people and non-homeless people. One day I had 41 people come through the door,” he said. “The Good Samaritan idea is working fine,” Estes reported. “People are putting in money so that the next person can have a meal.”
About the coffee, Estes offered somethingpersonal, a remembrance of his mother whodied some years ago. Said Estes, “The coffeeis locally roasted by Capitol Grounds 802Coffee. I have my own special blend called“A Touch of Joy” named after my mother, JoyMarie Estes.
George Estes remembered his mother withdeep affection. She held the family together.She worked in a number of local bankssuch as the Montpelier National Bank andthe Vermont National Bank. Back in the1970s she also started a women’s professionalbusiness association in Vermont.
“She always brought so much joy andhappiness to the people she met,” Estes said.
The public is invited to attend and enjoy abroad-based folk music concert to benefitthe new Open Hands Café. That concertis set for Friday evening, February 2 at7 p.m. at the Christ Church Parish Hall.Proceeds from the concert will benefit theGood Samaritan program at the OpenHands Café. Concert performers includePam Bockes, Leeds Brewer, David Kaynorand Susan Reid. The suggested donation is$10 per person. Concertgoers are invited topurchase food and drinks.