December 6, 2021
“One morning after we opened our South Portland location in 2013, I painted a scene of Ocean Street on an old burlap coffee bean bag. It shows the sun illuminating Knightville from the vantage point of our window. I painted it because I wanted to depict the edge of my world. To capture, in a brief moment, the beautiful view I get to take in each and every day.
When I first opened, I was working 7 days a week. In the beginning, we didn’t have a lot of staff, so I started using my old skates to serve people their food and coffee. It made it easier to run the show on my own when necessary. Plus, customers love when I wear them to work.
I am an artist, so I initially thought about making this space an art studio. But I wanted to give other artists a platform to showcase their work as well. I also love cafes, so it felt natural to combine the two.
Our number one driving force is our passion for people and serving the community. We want to keep the local economy strong and we love supporting local people, artists and businesses.
When the pandemic hit, we were scared just like everyone else. We knew it would be tough. We’re known for being a fun meeting place, and pre-pandemic it would get so busy. When restrictions were put in place, it felt really empty here. It was just such a strange experience as a business owner.
But like other restaurants that survived, we found a way to do it and we stayed open, offering take-out and curbside. We were happy to still be in operation, even if it meant limiting the community gathering experience we are known for. We stayed afloat because we have loyal customers and a dedicated staff.
In order to get through those tough times, we had to be resourceful, intuitive, positive and have a good sense of humor. Our customers would really brighten up our days.
One time, a regular came in and saw the blue painters tape on the floor indicating he should stand in the box to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. He would jump box to box and get everyone laughing. We have another regular who would visit and bring us small chocolates and tips as a thank you for staying open and working hard.
Their kindness gave us hope, and all we wanted to do was give them hope in return. At the height of the pandemic, when people came in sad wearing a mask, we always tried our best to make sure everyone left feeling happy and fulfilled.
Thankfully, things have gotten better since then. Business is busier than ever. We make it our mission to support our local bakers, makers and vendors.
People like that our coffee is locally roasted and organic and that our baked goods are all homemade. The arts and crafts selection is also local. We’re all about supporting our local economy and our customers see the value in that mission as well.
Serving our community is so important to us. It’s what we do. Our café is set up for everyone to feel comfortable in — in a way that reminds them it’s not just any coffee shop, but one they can call their own.” - Jeannie Dunnigan, Owner of CIA Café
Congratulations to CIA on being selected as one of the winners of the Heartbeat of Our Community Award!