Café the Lodge: Recovery Organization Becomes Community Source for Food and Art Events

Café The Lodge: Recovery Through Art and Food

“We’re proud of how involved we are in the community,” says Ian Panyko, Director of Café The Lodge. “People really love the mission.” Ian joined the Lodge in 2011 after obtaining his degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Kutztown University. Originally a “Recovery Coach,” since then, Ian, who has a background in the restaurant business since childhood, has helped Café The Lodge become an influential presence on the South Side. The Café, under the tutelage of local chef Allen Singer and run by recovery members and volunteers, offers Bistro-style food, gourmet coffee, and a quickly-growing catering wing. It also provides spaces for art and entertainment, and has been recognized by a variety of organizations for its community involvement, including the “Bethlehem Fine Arts Commission Award” (2014), “RHD Community Services Award” (2015), and, most recently, “Most Original Soup Award,” for chef Allen’s Creamy Pumpkin and Chorizo Soup (2017).

Murals of famous people who dealt successfully with mental illness line the interior of Cafe The Lodge

However, the success of Café The Lodge is secondary to the success of the Lodge members themselves.

Recovery

Café The Lodge, whose motto is “great food, greater good,” subscribes to the Fairweather Lodge model of psychosocial rehabilitation for members. The Fairweather philosophy emphasizes that consumers (or “clients”)—usually 12 at a time, spaced out in subsidized apartments throughout the South Side—retain autonomy over their recovery, for example, by engaging in community activities and living independently. “We’re not just housing facility, we’re much more than that,” Ian stresses. “As part of the Recovery Movement, we emphasize that a healthy lifestyle requires structure and responsibility and community engagement.” Operating on a “point” system, The Lodge encourage members to maintain these objectives by rewarding tiered points to members for exercising, attending classes, and volunteering on committee projects. Over the past years, members of the Lodge have accomplished or begun working towards achieving life-long goals.  For instance, one individual received his welding degree, while another is currently volunteering at a radio station and yet another is applying to barista schools to become a professional barista. Members also set up and participate in the many artistic events that Café The Lodge offers. Ian emphasizes that “the arts are the things I’m trying to push for right now.”

A recovery mural painted by a Lodge member hanging in the backyard’s Meditation Garden.

Arts & Entertainment

Almost every day, members practice some form of art at Café The Lodge.  Sometimes members meet together and paint, like on Wednesdays, or work in the garden, on Thursdays during the warmer months.  These paintings take the form of murals that line the interior dining area and, in the warmer months, hang over the meditation garden in The Lodge’s lush backyard. Additionally, of course, there are the larger public events on rotating weekends.  This is no accident.  The recovery model conceives of art as self-expressive and essential to well-being.  Furthermore, art possesses an inherently communal function that fosters a sense of belonging that is beneficial for people in recovery.  Currently, according to its website’s “entertainment” page, Cafe The Lodge runs:

  • “Friday Night Live Music” every 4th Friday of the month;
  • “Friday Night Open Mic” every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month;
  • “Drum Circle” every 2nd Saturday of the month;
  • “Student Showcase” every 2nd Friday of the month, featuring writing by students from Lehigh Valley’s Charter School for the Arts. “I’m always amazed at the quality of some of these stories and poems,” Ian exclaims.  “I have listened to poetry by middle-schoolers that has floored me, short stories that are so vivid they killed me.”

Café The Lodge: The Future

For such a vital piece of the local community, it’s hard to believe Café The Lodge is barely five years old.  Despite its relative newcomer status, there are more ambitious goals ahead.  “My priority for the spring and this year is to add to the art events and build up our catering business,” says Ian. Currently, catering represents 30% of the Café’s revenue, but Ian hopes that it will be near 40-50% in the next years. If he’s successful, he says, “We’ll be able to book more art events, especially more literary and theatrical events, as well as visual art.” (Ian is currently working with community partner Touchstone Theatre to commission an additional mural in the back yard while encouraging members to promote their original work in the Café.)

In particular, his vision is to add more events to the backyard, with its meditation garden, benches, and pond. “This would be a great place to host larger events in the summer,” Ian says, as we stroll the grounds. “We are so involved in the community, but I want to be even more ingrained than we are now.  And even now we’re in a pretty good place.”

It’s empty and desolate this wintry afternoon, but by summer it will be filled with artists, students, people in recovery, volunteers, and South Side residents from all backgrounds celebrating art and sharing food together.