VENTNOR — Sam Loyle loaded up three plates of food carefully in her arms and delivered them to a family sitting at one of the many tables in Enlightened Cafe before zipping back into the kitchen to grab another order.
It was a busy crowd Sunday afternoon at the newly opened cafe on Ventnor Avenue. Peering through the glass windows from the sidewalk, it looked like a new place for people to enjoy some live music, juices, smoothies, other organic foods and a calming atmosphere.
But what makes the cafe unique is what a passerby can’t see from the outside.
Jennifer Hansen, co-founder of the Hansen Foundation and CEO of Enlightened Solutions, opened what looks like a locally sourced organic cafe earlier this month, but it is also a place for people to go for intensive outpatient therapy and educational resources on addiction treatment and recovery.
“There’s this stigma attached to addiction,” said Loyle, who has been clean for more than a year. “This place really breaks the mold of that stigma and serves as a place for the public and people in recovery. We get to tell people about the cause for all this, the passion we have and the purpose for it.”
The space at 6410 Ventnor Ave. is divided into two parts: a fully functioning nonprofit cafe that serves drinks and food with produce grown at the Hansen Foundation’s Hope Farm in Galloway Township, and a treatment and recovery center scheduled to open by the end of summer.
All profits from the cafe go toward foundation scholarships for those who cannot afford treatment, Hansen said. The center part will offer family support groups, community yoga and meditation classes, peer-to-peer recovery support services and 12-step meetings.
“We have holistic therapies (at Enlightened Solutions) and teach about nutrition as part of treatment,” Hansen said. “But when they get out of treatment, they don’t have many places to go to get that kind of organic food at an affordable price. We got tired of waiting for something to open.”
The Hansen Foundation bought the building in February and spent the following months remodeling the space for a cafe and separate treatment center space.
The cafe’s design embodies that organic, calming feeling. The menus are written on a large chalkboard painted wall, swinging netted chairs hang from the ceiling for customers to relax in and a projector displays video of surfers in the ocean.
Enlightened Solutions alumni have had a hand in the cafe development as well. Steve Glynn, who completed treatment through Hansen’s program, created the cafe’s glossy wooden tables with Litchenburg figures burned into the surface.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Hansen’s daughter Mya, 19, sang and played guitar for customers who stopped in for a bite to eat or a drink. Several people who work as counselors, treatment experts and recovery advocates for Enlightened Solutions came to see the cafe for the first time.
Hansen, who has been in long-term recovery from heroin addiction for more than 20 years, and her family have made addiction treatment and recovery resources a priority. She has established detox centers, treatment programs and recovery housing opportunities in the South Jersey area.
Employment opportunity is just one more part of addiction recovery that she can now add to Enlightened’s list of resources.
“When you see someone get out of treatment, they really need to be working immediately for their recovery,” Hansen said. “We’re trying to staff the cafe with people in our sober living homes. When they get here to work, they’ve really come full circle.”
The cafe started serving breakfast Friday and plans to serve lunch and dinner by mid August. People in the community have already approached Hansen about performing and volunteering their time to lead yoga classes, a drum circle, a family constellation group and more for cafe and recovery clients.
“If it wasn’t for these programs and the scholarship, I really don’t think I’d be alive,” Loyle said. “There’s really a heart behind this place. Addiction is everywhere, it doesn’t discriminate. This cafe, it’s everything to me. Here, it’s all about the positive vibes.”