By Christine Dunne
Photos by Steven J. Pallone
In late 2017, Matthew Cullipher opened the Hope Cafe and Tea House in the village of Liverpool not only to provide customers with delicious food from countries like Peru and Columbia, but also to give hope people in need. Money from the restaurant goes toward funding The People Project, a Syracuse-based nonprofit focused on humanitarian projects abroad
and within the U.S.
“Without hope, people give up and they stop,” said Cullipher, who is the nonprofit’s CEO. “When people have hope they can advance and move forward.”
The People Project has contributed toward disaster relief, water well projects, literacy efforts, orphanages and schools and child sponsorships — among other initiatives — in countries like Peru and Kenya. It has also supported domestic programs for refugees and military troops returning from war, as well as efforts tied to drug addiction, homelessness and families in Syracuse.
“Our prayer is to keep expanding and opening new cafes so we can focus more on schools,” Cullipher said, noting the best way to help people out of poverty is to educate them.
The café recently announced a new location in downtown Syracuse at the corner of Warren and Jefferson streets, expected to open in September. While the Liverpool location has really taken off, Cullipher believes foot traffic around the new location will provide an extra boost to business.
“It’s the perfect spot, and I’m very grateful,” Cullipher said.
The Liverpool location is fully staffed by volunteers who believe in the nonprofit’s mission; they include chefs and businesspeople. They create culinary specialties like Peruvian empanadas and Colombian and Venezuelan arepas, highlighting the countries in which The People Project has done charity work.
The café also has a New York Italian influence, reflecting the heritage of various board members. According to Cullipher, the most popular menu item is a breakfast sandwich on Italian ciabatta bread with a fried egg, bacon or ham, and Peruvian aioli — a mild, creamy garlic and lime sauce.
“You’d think it’s such a simple thing, but these things sell like hot cakes,” he said.
There are many other interesting menu items for customers to choose from. For example, maduros are sautéed portions of ripened plantains, churritos are a Latino-version of fried dough, and a chicharron sanguich is pork belly served on a bed of thin-sliced sweet potato, topped with sarza Peruana and three Peruvian house sauces. Other sandwiches include the grilled chicken, bacon, and chipotle on Italian ciabatta and a pork belly sandwich. The café also offers paninis, empanadas, “hope” bowls (consisting of five grains, proteins, and/or veggies; unlimited herbs; and any of 10 special house sauces) and a wide range of beverages from various countries/regions are also available, such as teas (including a South American handmade artisan tea made with toasted barley and a proprietary blend of medicinal herbs), coffees (including pour-over coffee, Vietnamese drip, espresso, macchiatos), lattes (including Nutella, peanut butter cup, and Okinawa milk), Peruvian smoothies, juices (all-natural and made in the café), and hot chocolate.
One drink that jumps out is the Argentinian mate, “your own personal” Mathienzo gourd with traditional yerba mate—a caffeine-infused drink made by steeping dried leaves of the yerba mate—from Argentina. According to the menu, “This is an amazing source of natural energy and mental clarity with excellent health benefits for the heart and body.”
The café is also characterized by its relaxing atmosphere, including comfy leather couches from which customers can work for hours at a time. Cullipher believes this environment paired with unique food will really come in handy at the upcoming downtown location.
“If you’re having a meeting, having a business lunch, this is very much the perfect setup,” he said. “It’s very intentional. It’s going to be a refuge in the middle of the city. You’ll relax and people will feel calm.”
The Hope Café and Tea House’s current Liverpool location can be visited at 305 Vine Street
No. 5, inside the Village Mall across from The Retreat).