Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - Gianna’s Java and Gelato in Lincoln, a new non-profit café that will use proceeds to fund the work of Catholic Social Services (CSS) throughout southern Nebraska, is expanding its menu and other offerings in order to increase its customer base.
According to general manager Jake Mousel, business has been steadily climbing since the January grand opening.
“We’ve had some beautiful evenings, and that has brought in more foot traffic,” he said.
Already, some people have become regulars. Many have found that it’s easier to enjoy one’s morning coffee and pastry or breakfast sandwich when the profits are going to help people in need.
A study group led by CSS Director of Operations Bryan Dahlberg has moved from their previous location in the basement of Sacred Heart Church to meeting at Gianna’s Java & Gelato. You can find them in the lounge by the fireplace on Tuesday evenings, discussing books like “33 Days to a Merciful Life” while sipping on coffee or enjoying a cool treat (the salted caramel gelato and the grapefruit sorbetto are among the group’s favorite menu items).
“I’m impressed with the variety, not only in gelato but other things they offer here,” said Marianne Woeppel, a member of the study group.
Mousel said other groups have also inquired about meeting at the café. Its central location, large parking lot, and mission of “Good coffee. Good food. Great cause.” are ideal for meetings, mentoring, or study sessions.
Of course, like any fledgling restaurant, it will be some time before Gianna’s Java & Gelato is operating “in the black.” Dahlberg said he was encouraged by sales so far.
“Gelato is selling very well for cold months,” he reasoned, noting that the café is already halfway to their initial sales goal.
Broadening what the café offers is a good strategy to increase the number of regular customers.
In addition to custom-roasted coffee drinks, authentic Italian gelato, and a selection of breakfast and lunch items, Gianna’s Java & Gelato now offers pre-packed gelato pints, novelty desserts such as gelato-stuffed cannoli, and take-and-bake tuna noodle casseroles, perfect for a quick family meal.
Mousel said the staff is happy to serve drive-through customers with any of these items, in addition to the regular menu.
“You don’t even have to take the kids out of their car seats,” he grinned.
Specialty gelato cakes and custom batches of gelato or sorbetto can also be pre-ordered for Easter, first Communion, birthdays or any other special celebration. Customers need only drop by to select flavors and place their orders. An online ordering system is in the works, too.
Online ordering for some items is available now via SquareUp, the commerce company that the café uses to process debit and credit cards. By going to www.SquareUp.com/market/giannas-java-and-gelato, customers can pre-purchase beverages, food, and/or a handful of retail items. The staff will have them ready at the drive-through window in 15 minutes, or at a time the buyer chooses.
A dinner menu will be introduced sometime in the future. Meanwhile, lunch items can be purchased from the refrigerator case during regular hours of operation.
Since the café is a stone’s throw away from Lincoln’s new protected bike lane on N Street, Mousel has several ideas to encourage pedallers to cool off with a scoop of gelato or an iced latte.
“We need something for that clientele,” Mousel said, such as a bike rack, landscaping, maybe even some sort of exit ramp off the bike path. He’d also like to create some special events for bikers, using models that other local businesses have used successfully.
“Maybe a concert series,” he mused.
Several musical acts have already come to perform at Gianna’s Java & Gelato on weekend evenings. Mousel noted that the café was wired with speakers throughout the dining room so that musicians can plug in and play without bringing in their own sound systems.
The east wall of Gianna’s Java & Gelato has been set up to display art. One of the featured artists is Dave Schmidt, an organist for Cathedral and St. Joseph parishes in Lincoln who recently took up photography again. His mounted photos of spiritual places and objects are available for sale, and a portion of the proceeds go toward the café’s mission.
“We want to make sure we are doing everything well,” Mousel said. “It takes a while to really get into a groove and hit the sales numbers you want to see.”
Customers who want to ensure they are helping CSS programs can always round up their tab to include a direct donation. Mousel, however, is confident that the café will soon realize its potential as more and more people become patrons.
“Things look okay now,” he said. “I expect it to get better and better.”