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Inside the Ornery Vets Cafe in Uptown Athens.

Ornery Vets Cafe opens after a year coronavirus-delay

Ornery Vets Cafe (OVC) was delayed in its opening last spring due to COVID-19. However, the cafe finally opened this year. 

The cafe first opened its doors with a soft launch on Feb. 4 and held its grand opening on March 11. Thomas Stevenson, a board member of the cafe and an Ohio University professor of human and consumer sciences, said this project has been in the works for over a year and a half. 

“Safety is our biggest concern and that's why we didn't open the cafe for almost a year,” Stevenson said. “That's a long time to sit on a project, but we felt like it was the right thing to do.”

In that time, Stevenson said they worked with student groups such as restaurant, hotel and tourism students, engineering students and they hired a general manager. Mercadies George is a former marine and senior studying entrepreneurship and consumer psychology. 

“I am basically the face of OVC,” George said. “Now that we're open, I'm here every day while we're open Monday through Saturday, 9 (a.m.) to 3 (p.m.).”

Students have been involved in different parts of the project. Retail and fashion merchandising students chose the wall color. Members of Passion Works Studio painted the mural of the branches of service. Restaurant, hotel and tourism students standardized the menu and did taste testing. One of the engineering groups has been working on a countertop that would be accessible for those in wheelchairs as well as a possible performance area. 

“As an engineer, (I) like deciphering and figuring out what's the best thing and taking everything into consideration,” Makenzee Green, a senior studying mechanical engineering and a member of the engineering team working with the cafe, said.

The cafe also offers a pay-it-forward coffee service which they call “pending coffees.” When someone buys a coffee, they can pay for an extra one and put a chip on the board which can be redeemed by someone else who needs it and can’t pay.

“They can come in, they just grab a chip and cash it in at the counter, and we give them a free coffee,” George said.

Since being open, the business hasn’t been busy due to cautiousness about COVID-19. Stevenson said that a lot of the business comes in then goes right out the door. 

“It's slow, don't get me wrong,” George said. “We're still working on getting ourselves out there letting people know we're actually here and we're open. For the longest time for a year, people saw the opening soon sign so they put it in the back of their brain.”

As more people are eligible to get vaccinated, Stevenson said they hope to put on more programming for the public. He said they intend to support those dealing with grief, PTSD or even alcohol problems. 

“We want to create a space where people can have a sense of community,” Stevenson said. 

By working with these different communities, George is hoping they will be increasing employment and productivity all over the area.

“I'm really proud to say that we have students, veterans, volunteers and people with disabilities, who have been involved in all steps of the process and have given feedback,” Stevenson said. “For me, that's what a community-engaged project should be. Community-engaged projects that don't take into account the people that are the stakeholders, and the people that it will be serving, it is not a community-led project.”


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