Each week, we review a different breakfast spot in town, highlighting culinary offerings, brunchability, and the overall vibe as you sip your morning joe. Whether the restaurant in question is grab-and-go or stay-and-play, each offers a unique breakfast buzz that might be just what you need for the most important meal of the day.
The Spot: The Refuge Café
4727 North Seventh Avenue
The Scene: This humble spot — located amidst the hustle of Seventh Avenue — offers more than meets the eye. The setting is plain: unremarkable furniture, a digital board menu, and windows that look out on a chaotic Phoenix street. But what goes on between the four walls of The Refuge is truly special, and has made the café more than just a low-key breakfast spot. See the artwork on the walls? Pieces by Qasim Majeed might catch your attention; he has a three-part Realism series, in which he used a palette knife to created images of his native Baghdad. And display cases filled with colorful purses and funky jewelry? They were handmade by women who fled wars in Iraq and parts of Africa, determined to make a life and a living here in Phoenix.
Catholic Charities owns and operates The Refuge, and in addition to selling items by local refugees, the restaurant’s profits fund programs that help veterans, sex-traffic survivors, abused women, and foster care children. Through its Unaccompanied Minor Program, the charity group collaborated with Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona to create the mural you pass as you head toward the entrance of The Refuge. Children in the program were asked to design and create each tile based on a time that they experienced refuge in their journey, whether that refuge was a person, place, or event. The mosaic river that flows beneath the tree represents family and home, while the branches and leaves of the tree reflect the support of community and canopy of safety the children have found in foster families, mentors, and other caring adults. And that’s all before you even walk in the door.
The Goods: Behind the scenes, general manager John Strawn is everywhere: behind the counter, on the phone, and in the kitchen. The Ohio native is a whirling dervish of positive, productive energy. He has found a way to marry his restaurant and entrepreneurial skills with the mission of Catholic Charities, to protect and promote the city’s most vulnerable citizens. He makes a mean grilled cheese and whips up a veggie breakfast burrito that would rival any café's in town. As he works the panini press he will wax poetic about how important places like The Refuge are.
“It’s about relationships,” he says. “What we can create with the brother and sister groups that come in here to network.” The coffee beans they use, sourced through the Rainforest Alliance, are roasted locally and sold throughout the Valley at places like Whole Foods and AJ’s. Strawn lights up when he talks about MANA House, a two-year, temporary-living facility for homeless veterans in Phoenix. Catholic Charities and The Refuge are building their new coffee roaster there, as part of a work development program for the vets.
“I don’t really like that term though,” Strawn says. “These are men with skill sets. It’s more of a re-integration and re-socialization. That’s the biggest benefit we can offer: patience, understanding, compassion. We need to make room for someone who has served and wants to do something else with their life.”
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The Bottom Line: The Refuge is just that – a calm place, in the center of a city that can feel too big and loud and hot and crazy sometimes. Come here for breakfast, and not only will you feel good about putting your coffee money toward something bigger, but about meeting the people who are making a difference in Phoenix for those without a voice.
Special Something: Try the lavender mocha latte. The house-made lavender syrup and white mocha combo creates a sweet, liquorish-like concoction that will warm the cockles of your heart. And if that doesn’t do it, knowing your dollars are going to Phoenix’s most vulnerable, marginalized groups should do the trick.
Hours: Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Coffee Options: Lots. Beans are a private label blend of Arabica from Central and South America. They are roasted, packaged, and distributed by homeless veterans in Phoenix as a part of The Refuge’s commitment to their reintegration.
Wi-Fi? Yep. It’s a quiet spot to work solo. There's a private room in the back for meetings or events. And, given the surroundings and the mission of the place, it’s a great place to get inspired.
Drinking Before Noon: The Refuge has got you covered, with breakfast cocktails, traditional mixed drinks, and a happy hour that begins at 3 p.m. Hallelujah.