Kapp’s Kafe didn’t win any awards for its cuisine. And its coffee, according to locals, was merely “fine.” But when the main street establishment closed down a few years ago, the residents of tiny Bertha, Minnesota, were distraught.
For many townsfolk, Kapp’s was the first stop of the day. Without Kapp’s, retired farmers had nowhere to gather each morning. Grandparents had nowhere to show off photos of the grandkids. The community had nowhere to come together.
Luckily, the Bertha Senior Citizens group stepped in. With the encouragement of city leaders, a handful of senior volunteers launched a makeshift coffeehouse in the main room of the community center.
“A lot of seniors were used to going to the cafe. That was normal life in a small town,” explains Gen Aldrich, president of Bertha Senior Citizens.
Kapp’s was one of the few businesses still operating in the rural community. And when it shut its doors, says Aldrich, “We decided we needed to fill the gap. Everybody is interested in each other in Bertha. And here they can catch up on the latest gossip and see friends.”
Members of the senior citizens group take turns unlocking the community center doors each morning and firing up the big, church basement-style coffee pot. The place runs on free-will offerings so patrons pay whatever they feel like for a cup o’ joe.
“We used to have a standard charge. But then,” admits Aldrich, “we realized people pay more when they can choose how much they want to give.”
These days, customer contributions more than cover the cost of the coffee. The excess earnings have gone to support everything from the area food shelf to the local high school graduation party.
Bertha’s community coffee events run from 8:00am to 10:30am and, on average, draw about 30 people. Regulars take turns bringing in baked goods to share.
“We’ve had everything from homemade rolls to any kind of cake you want to name,” says Aldrich. “Jams. Apple butter. We get all the good stuff.”
As far as Aldrich is concerned, it’s easy to keep rural Minnesota communities alive. You just need to provide a place for that to happen.