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Sun Café: Auburn Public Theater lines up funding, local coffee supplier for expansion

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AUBURN — The former law offices of Dennis Sedor at 108 Genesee St. look like a war zone. Drywall has been punched through, cords dangle out of the walls and debris litters the floor. 

It's a somewhat familiar sight for the directors of Auburn Public Theater.

Scheduled to open in the space next spring is Sun Café, a coffee shop and restaurant that will connect to the neighboring theater and support it financially. Previously called Café Einstein, it's half of a $1.2 million project that also includes the renovation of the theater's 13,000-square-foot basement into a black box theater and a multipurpose space for stand-up concerts, weddings and other uses.

Sedor vacated the café space in early July, clearing the way for Auburn Public Theater to start construction in the fall, Artistic Director Angela Daddabbo said Friday. The lawyer had nine years left on his lease, she continued, but agreed to let the theater buy it out and moved to 110 Genesee St. as a result. Daddabbo expressed gratitude to Sedor for clearing the way for the theater's expansion.

Meanwhile, the theater has been finalizing plans and funding for the Genesee Street café. It secured $600,000 through the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council in December, as well as $200,000 from the Allyn Foundation and $100,000 of its own piecemeal fundraising, Daddabbo said. Now, she continued, the theater is working to raise about $200,000 to earn a $100,000 challenge grant from the Emerson Foundation. And it's prepared to continue fundraising in case the cost of the expansion goes over its $1.2 million projections, she added.

Later Friday, the café secured a potential source of additional funds when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at the theater that Auburn won $10 million in the third round of the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The café was part of the city's application for the money, with a $300,000 request, but the application is not binding and subject to a planning process with a state consultant.

Daddabbo said the theater is humbled by the support shown to its first capital campaign since it opened in 2005 in the old Grant's Department Store, which once looked like Sedor's office does today.

"There's a lot of goodwill for the organization," she said. "A lot of people want to be part of our continued success."

Fundraising isn't the only front of activity for Sun Café. It has also lined up a coffee supplier in Simple Roast, Matthew Peirson's business based in Grant Avenue Plaza in Sennett. Peirson will not only provide the cafe's coffee, Daddabbo said, he'll sell his beans there as well. Though Peirson's art isn't the kind the theater typically showcases, she continued, his presence there still serves its mission.

"The theater has been an incubator space, if nothing else, for local talent of any variety — singers, dancers, musicians," she said. "And he happens to have a superior product, which is exciting."

Along with coffee roasted by Peirson, Sun Café will serve tea, salads, sandwiches and wraps. Like it did with Simple Roast, the theater will source much of its menu locally, and feature local recipes. That approach is partly inspired by the opening of the nearby Equal Rights Heritage Center, which is expected to welcome 10,000 to 40,000 unique visitors to the area annually, Daddabbo said.

Daddabbo said theater board members Dave Tobin and Ed Catto have held a few meetings with local restaurant owners where they explained Sun Café's business model. Though it is for-profit, the café will donate revenue to the nonprofit theater. Daddabbo and theater Executive Director Carey Eidel found a guide for the idea in Café at 407 in Liverpool, which supports eating disorder treatment center Ophelia's Place. Also at the meetings, Daddabbo continued, Tobin and Catto sought to assure local restaurant owners that the goal of the café is to synergize with them, not supplant them.

"We just wanted to make sure the local restaurants understand that this is part of our original plan," she said. "This is about creating long-term sustainability for Auburn Public Theater."

For instance, Daddabbo said, Sun Café will seat 50 people inside and 20 at an outside area on Exchange Street, so it won't quite compete with the cozy atmosphere of Riverbend Coffee down Genesee Street. And the café won't have a liquor license, so it won't compete with local bars. But it will bring people to downtown Auburn, she said, and that will benefit everyone.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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