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Seeds founder CrEATes a new community centered cafe in Manitou

August 12, 2017 Updated: August 12, 2017 at 9:15 pm
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Patrons order food at Lyn Harwell's new establishment called CrEATe Cafe in Manitou Springs on Saturday. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

Nearly a week after Seeds Community Café closed its doors, a steady stream of customers filtered in and out of a new Manitou Springs restaurant opened by the founder of the recently-shuttered eatery.

Chef Lyn Harwell's newest venture, CrEATe Café, is located within the Manitou Art Center, a hub for the area's creative minds in the 500 block of Manitou Avenue.

Harwell resigned as Seeds' executive director after the organization's board discovered the operation was more than $100,000 in debt last fall. Board members ultimately attributed the donation-based café's Aug. 6 closure to a combination of financial problems and shortfalls in customer traffic and contributions.

His new menu's array of salads, sandwiches and entrées - many made with locally sourced ingredients - are offered at fixed prices. But the spirit of Seeds' "pay-what-you-can" policy remains.

CrEATe replaced Mabel's Café, an art center-run joint that served soup and coffee and operated with a similar mission. It was named after a staff member's grandmother, who served soup during the Great Depression to ensure that everyone was fed.

"We wanted to make sure that we worked with someone who understood the importance of feeding people, the importance of food, and the importance of not turning anyone away," said Natalie Johnson, the art center's executive director, who approached Harwell about opening a new café to replace Mabel's more than a year ago.

When designing the menu, Harwell maintained Mabel's $2 cups of soup, $1 self-serve coffee station and the "pay-as-you-can pot," a large black kettle where customers are encouraged to deposit a dollar or two to provide a fund for those who can't afford a cup of coffee or soup. The café staff typically dips into the kettle for a cashless patron two or three times a day, said Harwell's fiancée Laura Ettinger, who co-owns CrEATe with him. The restaurant also offers some food items in exchange for volunteer work, such as dishwashing.

"It was a moving forward onto the next concept," Ettinger said. "When he separated from Seeds, it was in the understanding that it was in good hands with the executive director and the board."

Gene Tanski, Seeds' board president, said the board chose to take responsibility for Harwell's debt, paying $40,000-$50,000 in delinquent local, state and federal taxes and working with a consultant to develop a plan to repay another $40,000-$60,000 owed to vendors and other creditors.

"Never once have we received any kind of a thank you, any kind of a recognition of that from Lyn," Tanski said.

The board was not aware of Harwell's plan for the new restaurant until the Colorado Springs Business Journal published a story on the café in May, he said.

"I hope that he has learned, finally, from all of his mistakes. If he is able to do that, I wish nothing but the best, and hope he is tremendously successful there," Tanski said.

Harwell declined to comment on his departure from Seeds or the opening of CrEATe.

Ettinger described the new café's clientele as a mix of locals, tourists and artists who work in the darkroom, woodshop, printshop, and other studios that make up the art center and its "MakerSpace." A few customers, familiar with Harwell's cooking at Seeds, have come eager to try more of his creations, she said.

"They've followed on over. They knew the food was going to be good."

While the breakfast menu features the standard fare of biscuits and gravy and breakfast sandwiches and burritos, the lunch and dinner selection boasts of more sophisticated cuisine: the Red Mountain Grilled Cheese with house-smoked brisket and caramelized onions, zucchini noodles with vegan marinara sauce, and the Chef's Choice Buddha Bowl, a daily-curated mix of brown rice, quinoa, vegetables and sauce.

The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. CrEATe recently began serving Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The Manitou Springs Creative District was awarded $4,000 from the city, along with a $1,500 loan and $1,500 grant from the Peak Living Community Foundation, to install kitchen equipment at the arts center before the café's opening, Ettinger said.

Dustin Booth, the center's studio artist manager, said he's noticed a steady increase in business on the weekends with Manitou's peak tourist season in full-swing.

He's yet to have a bad meal at the cafe, he added.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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