Topeka, Shawnee County Library seeks new operator for Millennium Cafe

The Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library is looking for a new business to run their cafe on site.

The Library Foundation recently announced that Topeka-based Engroff Catering will be stepping down as operator of the Millennium Cafe at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library on July 31. The foundation is looking for another food service provider to take its place.

During this research process, the cafe should temporarily close.

“We are looking for a company that will understand the needs of the clients of the library and our properties,” said Erin Aldridge, executive director of the foundation. “We have the beautiful renovated dining room. We now have Claire’s Courtyard. And this operator also serves as the exclusive caterer for the properties under this contract.”

According to Aldridge, the Millennium Cafe has been in business for almost 20 years.

The closure of the pandemic led to the renovation of the cafe

While the Library Foundation oversees the café, an outside entity hired by the foundation has traditionally been tasked with managing the café and providing catering services, including catering for meetings and events that take place at the facilities of the. library.

Engroff Catering has been this operator since January 2020, taking over less than three months before the Millennium Cafe was temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It closed when the home security order started,” Aldridge said. “We were able to reopen in March of this year. “

At the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library's Millennium Café, guests can enjoy a full-service coffee bar and various dining options.

The closure of the café allowed renovations to be carried out for the first time since it opened in the early 2000s.

“Like most of the stuff we do in the library,” Aldridge said, “we looked at it and we said,“ OK, what could that be and where could it go? and took the opportunity to completely renovate the dining room. “

But if it allowed some improvements, the closure did not bode well for its operator.

“The pandemic has impacted their bottom line,” Aldridge said, adding that Engroff continued to provide catering services to the library during this downtime.

In a library press release late last week, a spokesperson for Engroff said some of his work in the library was valuable to the local catering business.

“Having a newly remodeled place to serve customers is something we’ve been looking forward to,” said Rosie Newman, CEO of Engroff, “but the pandemic has caused several shutdown dates in 2020 and 2021. It’s had a lasting impact on our ability to support our business at Millennium Cafe. We have truly enjoyed our relationship with the Library Foundation and the library and our library patrons will be missed the most. “

The library will welcome an operator by early 2022, will offer catering during the interim

Aldridge said they hope to have a new cafe operator and caterer in place by January 2022.

“We think finding a cafe operator with this whole full catering service is going to take a bit longer,” she said. “But we’re hoping that by January 1 we’ll be able to reopen the cafe. Obviously, if someone comes in earlier, we’re happy that happens sooner.”

In the meantime, she said, the Library Foundation is working on a separate catering contract to ensure catering availability for upcoming meetings and events.

When it comes to having a new cafe operator on board, Aldridge said, they would pay a fee to the Library Foundation so that they can help maintain the facility and provide any necessary equipment.

Terry Kerr, a barista at the library's Millennium Cafe, is steaming milk for a latte on Wednesday morning.  Kerr said he was excited to see what opportunities could be created by the arrival of a new coffee operator.

“It’s actually a really, really good opportunity for someone to come in and have everything ready for them,” Aldridge said. “We actually provide all the physical equipment and utensils and things like that, which is for the use of the cafe and the catering. The operator would be responsible for the staff and the catering side.”

And finding a new operator soon, she said, is important, as the Millennium Cafe serves as a gathering place for the community.

“It’s a place where people can meet for business. They can meet for community conversations. They can meet a friend,” Aldridge said. “Every year we see thousands of people come by looking for an experience. Having a cafe and food service allows us to enhance that experience for them.”