EAST AMHERST, N.Y. — There's a new coffee shop in East Amherst where you can grab that morning cup of joe or afternoon caffeine boost, but it's located in an unlikely spot — a new bank branch on Transit Road.
Alden State Bank partnered with F BITES, a local nonprofit, to open the new cafe which serves Starbucks coffee.
President and CEO Steve Woodard saw a similar concept at a bank in Minnesota. He had extra space at the branch and wanted to put it to good use. So he and his team reached out to F BITES founder Bobby Anderson to see if he was interested — he was.
F BITES stands for Food Based Interventions with Technology Energy and Science. Their focus is on workforce development and teaching teens and young adults soft skills they can't always learn in a regular classroom. F BITES also runs programs in Niagara Falls.
"Not all kids sit and get. What makes F BITES special is that our learning process is mostly vocational. It's mostly touchy touchy, and we use food as a syllabus," said Anderson. "[We teach] pull your pants up, firm handshake, look someone in the eye. Then once we do that, we put a uniform on them. Then we put them in the actual job itself."
There's a focus on hiring high-risk teens, the chronically unemployed, and drawing employees from women's shelters, special education programs and Western New York's Black and Brown communities.
The new cafe at Alden State Bank isn't a high-volume store, but the value of the location goes far beyond how many cups of coffee they sell.
"I mean we think what we do is important, but we think what they do is really important. The teaching of life skills, hard and soft skills, and training a workforce. Giving them that opportunity," said Woodard.
Alden State Bank built out the space for the new cafe and funded the initial startup. Now F BITES is in charge of running the shop.
Maliyah Howard works at the new cafe three days a week. She graduated from aesthetics school and is studying to take the state boards. In fact, studying on the job is encouraged.
Howard said she appreciates that F BITES focuses on diversity in the hiring process, and she knows the skills she's learning now will help her as an esthetician.
"In school you don't really learn customer service. You don't really learn how to handle your money. You really just don't know that stuff," said Howard.
Woodard said the F BITES partnership just makes sense.
"Being a community bank is more than just being located in a community. It's being actively engaged in the community," said Woodard. "We're not going to be any more successful than our community is."