Though AspenPointe operates a number of social enterprises, the easiest for the general public to support is AspenPointe Café, located at 1675 Garden of the Gods Road, inside the newly overhauled El Paso County Citizens Service Center.
The Department of Human Services and Pikes Peak Workforce Center are located inside that old Intel facility, largely "serving the same population that we do," in the words of AspenPointe's director of business development, Karen Harding. But the Division of Motor Vehicles also operates a branch on-site, and wait times there tend to be shorter than at other DMV locations.
Plus, the café features DMV monitors inside its expansive dining area, so folks waiting for license renewals and the like can drop in for a Starbucks coffee drink and house-baked pastry or a full meal, assured they won't miss when their numbers are called.
And helping AspenPointe is really just as simple as spending money at the café. The barista who makes your coffee will likely be in a special training program based on Starbucks' own company training manual (good for later job placement, perhaps). And 100 percent of the proceeds from your purchase will be reinvested in AspenPointe's student training program.
Currently there are 10 students (identifiable by their tan chef hats) under the supervision of 21 AspenPointe food service workers and other support staff. At any one time, they may include at-risk youth, veterans, students from the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, and those with a variety of disabilities who've sought AspenPointe's services. The culinary training program runs for 17 weeks and costs $2,400 (open to the public, with rolling admission and scholarships available).
"We try to build their self-esteem and get them to a working level," says AspenPointe sous chef Sean Gibbons. "Part of it's just being able to do the job. Part of it's being able to take criticism, because they'll get that in the real world."
Gibbons explains how a student will start in the dish room, then learn knife skills and prep work, followed by a couple weeks' work on each cooking station in-house, such as the soup and salad area, grill and sauté line, Asian counter and wood-oven pizza area. They'll test out of each area before moving on, then complete a four-week internship somewhere in the community prior to graduation, from which they walk away holding a new Messermeister knife kit.
AspenPointe also helps with job placement and follow-up support. Stacey Burns, AspenPointe's director of career and development services, says 12 students have graduated since the café's inception Nov. 1. Six of those students have been hired internally, former executive chef Pete Aiello hired one student at his new post at the DoubleTree Hotel - World Arena, and Colorado Springs School District 11, a key collaborator in AspenPointe's internship program, acquired another.
Food with purpose
Director of business operations Brian Toon says that in less than six months, the café operation made it into the black.
"We feel like we have to stand on our own legs financially and from a service standpoint," he says. "Quality food, quality customer service at a good price, and then to the customer, the social mission is gravy on top of that. We feel like we need to be around a long time, and you do that through sustainable business practices."
Currently, the café sees around 350 to 400 guests per day, says Toon, 75 percent of them being county employees. He envisions taking up to 20 students as a short-term goal, and perhaps as many as 30 down the road. The expansive space can certainly handle the volume; only three of five cashier stations are open at the moment.
Another way that small groups of individuals, businesses and larger organizations can help AspenPointe is by using its free meeting space, adjacent to the café's dining room. It's wired for PowerPoint presentations, and boxed lunches, full-service meals or simple coffee-and-pastry service can be arranged. After hours, it and the larger dining area may be rented at no cost for alcohol-free events for up to 500 people.
With artwork created in AspenPointe's Creative Expressions program adorning walls throughout the space, plus a sunlit outdoor patio, it's a cozy-enough space trying to shrug off its corporate cafeteria origins. And for the typical guest at the complex for a completely un-fun DMV visit, this fairly priced eatery with quality food — $1 pizza slices, gluten-free soups, sushi, pad Thai, gorgeous hazelnut-raspberry Linzer bars, even take 'n bake items — is a bright spot.