Asbury community breakfasts could be coming to an end

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
Asbury UMC Friday Morning Cafe volunteer Jean Schrader dishes up a meal for one of the hungry diners during a Nov. 8 breakfast.

Seventeen years is a milestone many restaurants and cafes never reach, but for the weekly Friday Morning Café housed in the Asbury United Methodist Church, it may prove to be a bittersweet hallmark.

Founder, organizer and sometimes chief bottle washer and janitor Lou Casperson, along with his wife Teri Casperson and a core of dedicated volunteers—eight dating back to the first breakfast served years ago—are hanging up their aprons and closing down the café on Dec. 13 after more than 766 Fridays unless new leadership can be found.

“It’s a lot of Fridays out of one’s life,” said Lou, who, in a previous life was a social studies teacher at Groveport Middle School South before retiring. “There are roughly 24 people that volunteer each week and 16 expressed the desire to ‘retire.’ We’re currently serving, on average, around 200 breakfasts each day, which is phenomenal. During our busiest time, between 8:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., we serve a breakfast a minute and that’s a lot better average than some restaurants.”

The Caspersons and volunteers open the doors at 6 a.m., but people are often waiting at the door as early as 5:45 a.m. Two hours later, parking spaces are few and far between at the church, located at 4760 Winchester Pike, Columbus.

Inside the church hall, lined with tables set with placemats and bottles of maple syrup and ketchup, servers take orders to the kitchen for the $5 full-service breakfast, which includes eggs made to order; bacon, ham and sausage; French toast; pancakes; mush; biscuits; toast and coffee or tea.

Depending on the time of day, conversations fill the air as individuals and groups engage in small talk.

“This café primarily serves Southeastern Franklin County,” said Lou. “While church members make up 10 percent of our business, the remaining 90 percent come from the community at large. We’ve had people come in from Fairfield and Licking County. Firefighters sometimes come in and we had local politicians in during the election season. We’ve never advertised. It’s all been through word-of-mouth.”

Casperson hopes word-of-mouth gets out about the need for new people to take over the community breakfast, which he initially created to help pay for church maintenance, such as a new roof, lawn equipment and flooring replacement.

While Lou admits the benefits are slim, there is a lot of camaraderie shared between the volunteers and the people they serve.

“What keeps this going is not the grind, but the people and the community,” said Casperson.

Madison Township Trustee Ed Dildine, who graduated with Casperson from high school, has been a regular at the Friday Morning Café for eight years and said, while the breakfast is great, what keeps him coming back are the people.

“I really hope it doesn’t stop,” said Dildine.

During a recent Friday, Madison Township John Pritchard and Madison Township Police Chief Gary York sat down together at breakfast. Like Dildine, Pritchard said the people keep bringing him back.

“I can come here at 7 a.m. and still make it to work,” Pritchard said. “Lou’s done his job and I understand why he wants to stop. I’m hopeful somebody will take it over. Coming here, I’ve been able to reconnect with family and friends. The food is awesome and I usually get the mush.”

York started coming to the weekly breakfasts after he became chief in 2018. He said it is a good atmosphere where people approach him freely with concerns and issues about the police department.

“I enjoy the friendships and talking with people,” said York, who said Casperson was a teacher when he attended the middle school. “It’s nice to come here, have breakfast and be able to help people as well.”

As a well-rehearsed ballet of pans, food, grills and people continue in the kitchen, Lou grabs a rag to clean off a table for the next diner and wistfully hopes these aren’t the last days for the Friday Morning Breakfast Café.

“The church is interested in continuing the breakfast if leadership can be found,” said Casperson. “Otherwise, the last breakfast is Dec. 13.”

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