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Ministry struggles to save Bailey Avenue soul food restaurant after crash

The ministry behind Bailey Avenue Café & Bake Shoppe is used to helping other people get back on their feet. Now, it's the one struggling to pick up the pieces.

Saving Grace Ministries opened the not-for-profit soul food restaurant and bakery in 2014 to provide on-the-job training and work experience to carefully screened former criminal offenders, who are often shut out of the job market.

But in the early morning hours two weeks ago, a distracted and speeding driver clipped a light pole on the street outside the cafe, which sent her car sailing through the eatery's brick wall and into its kitchen, where the bakers usually stand loading cookies and cakes into the commercial ovens. No one was hurt, but the building at 2021 Bailey Ave. sustained major damages.

In another blow, the driver only carried the minimum amount of insurance legally required by the state, topping out at $25,000, said Rev. Terry King, Saving Grace Ministries founder and CEO. Repairs to the building are expected to cost more than twice that, without factoring in the loss of equipment and inventory. The store's eight workers are out of jobs for the time being. And all the while, the bills are stacking up with no business revenue coming in to cover them, King said.

"It's hurtful, knowing how much work the staff and community put into it and what a sense of pride it brought," King said.

Damage caused at the cafe by the car accident.

The restaurant was insured, but hassles from the driver's insurer have caused delays, keeping the store from starting the rebuilding process, aside from emergency stabilization of the store's front wall. It will take as much as 10 weeks to get the restaurant ready to reopen.

King has seen the need the restaurant fills in the community. He said people leave prison with a stigma and enter the world carrying enormous legal, familial and economic responsibilities and pressures, usually without the benefit of education and practical skills.

"Knowing how to have a job is a skill. Knowing that the employer expects you to show up for work, to be on time and to come back the next day and do it all over. That you have to come back the second week after you get your first paycheck," King said. "All the elements others take for granted."

He has also seen the fruits of the ministry's labor.

King said he is often stopped by program graduates, excited to tell him how much they've accomplished since leaving Saving Grace and eager to thank him for his help. One of them ended up getting a commercial license and now drives a bus and has a home and family. Another started a successful landscaping company and has employees of his own.

"To see the smile on someone's face, to see that pride and confidence in the life they've built. To see them free," he said. "That's what motivates us to keep doing what we do."

The restaurant is known for its southern specialties such as macaroni and cheese, chopped burgers and cornmeal-fried haddock. It has become a neighborhood staple, with its wraps, subs and desserts.

Since 1999, Buffalo-based Saving Grace Ministries has helped men and women leaving prison ease back into society. It offers support, housing and life skills training in hopes of guiding citizens toward independent living and preventing them from reentering incarceration. Last year, it served 750 people in Erie County who had been released by correctional facilities.

Saving Grace Ministries' Grace House Buffalo opened in 2001 as a safe place for homeless ex-offenders to stay as they returned to the community. What began as one facility with space for just five men, has grown to 19 locations with the capacity to serve more than 100 people. The Grace House model has since been replicated in Elmira, Rochester and Florida.

Still, without capital reserves, the future of Bailey Avenue Café & Bake Shop is not promised.

"It's safe to say there's a bit of anxiety. Will we have the funds to reopen? It's one thing to rebuild but will we have to start from scratch?" King said. "I don't know how we're going to handle all that yet. We're going to have to take it one week at a time."

The restaurant has not actively sought donations to help with the rebuild, but donations to Saving Grace Ministries can be made at SGM.givingfuel.com/support.

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