Emily Schmidt learned at a young age that a good cup of coffee and a cheerful disposition can brighten a room on the cloudiest of days.
“My mom said that, when I was five, I always made the coffee and would go around serving it to company,” Schmidt said.
Later on, her desire to serve people continued into waitressing jobs.
“I just loved waiting on people,” she said.
Over the years, she would move to New York, return to Pennsylvania, marry and have three children, putting on hold a dream of one day owning her own place. Eventually, she returned to Pennsylvania to continue on to the next phase of her journey.
Schmidt described driving by the old property that now houses her dream come to life, The Cracked Pot coffee shop in Mechanicsburg.
“When I would drive by, I’d feel almost like a magnetic pull,” she said. “Then, one day, I decided to drive into the parking lot and spotted a sign saying that it was for lease.”
Schmidt arrived with a big idea.
Years earlier, before she and her husband made the decision to have their own children, they considered adoption, enlisting the help of Bethany Christian Services of Central Pennsylvania.
“I was always drawn to the kids who were older, and then one day it came to me—I wanted the shop to focus on a mission to help those who were aging out of foster care,” she said, explaining that kids can be in the system until age 21, but many of them want to be released earlier because they are sick of being jostled around.
“They travel with a trash bag sometimes,” she said.
Schmidt called about the lease on Mother’s Day, and Rosalie Hess Roland answered, explaining that they were in the building business and were in the process of turning operations over to their son. The historic house had been in the family since 1908 and was converted to a commercial building comprised of three units in 2000.
Schmidt felt that the third unit would be perfect for the shop and proceeded to share her idea to form a nonprofit to mentor young adults and teach them valuable business skills.
“She told me that God told her to put a coffee shop there, and I said that God didn’t tell me, so let me think about it,” said Roland, with a chuckle.
Fast-forward to last May, and the coffee shop with the unique name began serving baked goods made by volunteers, along with smoothies and, of course, coffee—from espressos to lattes and more—using Lancaster-based Passenger coffee, which is also focused on a higher cause, providing fair wages for coffee farmers.
The name “Cracked Pot,” according to Schmidt, is inspired by a Bible verse in II Corinthians that compares humans to clay jars.
“We all have flaws and challenges, and all of us have been through stuff,” Schmidt said. “We want those who work here to learn that they can trust us and that we care about them and where they are headed, regardless of where they’ve been.”
Fallen in Love
Two people currently train at the shop and are expected to meet pre-set goals, according to Schmidt.
The nine-month program begins with a phone interview, a face-to-face interview, customer service training and weekly goal setting. Phase two involves an outside mentor to assist in formulating goals for the future.
“We want to know how we can help them career-wise,” said Schmidt. “If they want to get into HACC, for instance, we will help them go on college visits.”
A six-member board, chaired by Roland, is in place to ensure that goals for the shop and its mission are being met along the way.
“We think it’s a good idea to help young people without a network learn the skills they need to successfully launch into adulthood,” said Elaine Shenk, satellite office director of the Harrisburg office of Bethany Christian Service of Central Pennsylvania.
Pastor Zack Wilt of Dillsburg said that, as an outdoorsman, he’s not usually a big fan of coffee shops, but the atmosphere has turned him into a convert.
“There’s something special about the place that you notice when you first walk in,” he said. “Their mission of wanting to love and serve kids on the back end of the foster system is very special, and now I’ve fallen in love with the place.”
Sue Ross, who lives in Grantham, said her granddaughter volunteers there and, in a day and age when service with a smile is sometimes unheard of, The Cracked Pot is a welcome haven.
“From the minute you enter, you feel very welcomed,” she said.
Schmidt started out with a dream that materialized into a mission. When she shares plans for the future, which include helping additional at-risk youth, her eyes light up and her smile becomes contagious, and you can tell that she’s exactly where she needs to be.
The Cracked Pot is located at 130 Gettysburg Pike, Mechanicsburg. To learn more, visit their website at www.thecrackedpotcoffeeshop.com or their Facebook page.