The Encounter Café gets cozy with Iowa City debut

A new café aims to bring a unique personality to Iowa City.


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Lily

The Encounter Cafe staff stand for a portrait on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. The Encounter Cafe opened its doors to the public on August 23, 2017, to many positive reviews. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

The Encounter Café is more than just the average coffee and sandwich place. The Mennonite-owned-and-operated café has a unique personality beyond that of a corporate chain, and it plans for profits to go to charity.

A banner hangs facing the front door reading “Start each day with a grateful heart.” A blue bicycle is mounted for the patrons to see, holding in its basket a loaf of bread, a bottle of milk, and a carton of eggs.

Encounter Café, 376 S. Clinton, appears both welcoming and comfortable, with two leather chairs and a sofa placed near a fireplace, which adds to the warm light of the room.

The idea is inspired by a pastor’s visit to a place called Sower’s Harvest near Penn State. The pastor, along with five other members from Sharon Bethel Mennonite Church, strove to form a place of business with quality and kindness like they experienced at Sower’s Harvest.

They chose Iowa City because of its nature as a metropolitan college town, said café manager Ray Yutzy, and to give the students a safe place to hang out and study.

“We would like to give a home to those feeling a little more displaced,” Yutzy said, referring to students who aren’t Iowa natives.

Yutzy is pleased that he recognizes some regular customers. On Wednesday, a week after opening day, the café was filled with people of all ages from college students to middle-age business people to elderly folks.

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“We’re interested in making friends, to portray the love of Jesus, and to just be ourselves,” Yutzy said. That they are Mennonites is not the forefront of the Encounter Café, he noted.

He actively works for the mission of the café and is involved with the basic operations of the café from serving food to cleaning tables.

Miller, along with the rest of the kitchen staff, are parishioners from Sharon Bethel and new to the restaurant business.

“I didn’t quite know what I was getting into,” Miller recalls, “It’s just so new.”

While Miller and her kitchen staff have felt the squeeze of working a popular new attraction in a big college town, they settled in and found their working groove by Friday, when they held a post-work meeting with Yutzy.

The peeople at Encounter Café find a purpose beyond their friendly disposition and quality food.

“When we turn a profit, we will donate the proceeds to charity,” Yutzy said.

What: The Encounter Cafe.

Where: 376 S. Clinton St.

When: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tues-Sat. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Contact: 319-519-2044

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