What began as a journal entry has become a very real and living establishment for Karen and Kevin Shinn.
“The dream for Bread & Cup –– I can document –– goes back to December 31, 1994. I was writing in my journal thoughts about church, and the community, and how the two intersect,” Kevin said.
Having moved from California to Nebraska as newlyweds nearly twenty-five years ago, Kevin and Karen ventured to Lincoln with the intent of staying merely two or three years. Despite knowing no one in the city, it eventually and unexpectedly became home to them and their two children. They worked in ministry and substitute teaching before a long-instilled dream of theirs was given hope via opportune timing and mutual resolve.
“I thought, where are my best conversations? They’re in pubs, and diners, and cafés. That’s where the best conversations happen… [N]ot in some formal church setting, but over food and drink.”
It was seven years after Kevin’s first journal entry that he points to another, where he began to seriously consider the possibilities of opening the restaurant. Then, three years and a few conquered challenges later, the dream was becoming reality.
“To create a place that was really centered around conversation and where the food is secondary. It’s really always been about creating conversation in a place for it to be had, and hopefully our food will support that and be memorable. The food is not unimportant, but it’s not primary.”
With inexperience and lack of location presenting huge challenges, Karen and Kevin struggled to entice a staff. After several location scouts, they settled on their current spot on 8th Street in the northern area of the Haymarket. As the building was being renovated, they sought out anyone willing to work.
“We were trying to hire, to get ready to open,” Karen explains. “We literally put up a tent out there on the corner and said ‘Now hiring. Stop by and apply.’ Our fist employees were a kid that came walking over the bridge, and another mom called and sent her kid in saying ‘My son likes to cook.’ That was totally how we drafted our first staff. They got us through it, but we didn’t have experience, or high-volume experience.”
After a number of years in the business, through learning curves and loops, Bread & Cup has developed and transformed into a staple of Lincoln’s fine dining scene.
But the difficulties were not simply at the start. Kevin reflects on seasons both high and low –– from warm summers which lend good business to cold winters which impair the typical person’s likelihood of venturing too far outdoors; chaotic renovation scenes to the now exciting and engaging environment of the Haymarket and Railyard area.
“Seven years now [since we first opened] and it seems like every year brings a different kind of challenge. It’s not been without it’s rethinking and reworking.”
Possibly their biggest challenge came when Karen was diagnosed with her first bout of ovarian cancer in May of 2010. After a simple check-up, she found herself in surgery three days later.
“When someone says, ‘Your wife has cancer,’ and ovarian cancer at that, it just, it’s devastating, and trying to carry on working.”
Friends hosted a fundraiser dinner, selling tickets for the meal, and their whole community showed up. The Bread & Cup faithful rallied together and offered support when time off was needed, as well as donations to help pay for medical bills.
“The community that has been the true Bread & Cup, it was amazing,” Karen reflects.
Kevin continues, “You talk about community, that season five years ago was…It was amazing. Her (Karen’s) mom commented, ‘All these people know you from the restaurant? These aren’t all your church friends?’ Yeah, I think we probably had about two of our church friends there.”
“But that’s why we opened the restaurant. We wanted to be embedded in the community. It’s part of our philosophy, and that which I think is present in the people here, as we’ve experienced. We put our personality into our work, and our heart and soul into our work. It’s not just a transaction, but it’s relationship which allows us to know our staff and to know our guests, adding value to our community.”
The ampersand symbol lends to that philosophy. It’s repeatedly seen and experienced within the establishment. The bringing together of food and the soul as a means of building and enhancing community.
“We want to make sure that we have a place that people feel comfortable enough to come and be welcomed in, taken care of, and excited to come back again. That’s really the philosophy about Bread & Cup, is that it’s always been about conversation.”
And Karen and Kevin believe unwaveringly that it is the experience that brings people together.
“We’re not that transaction. There’s something organic here, something that flows and is alive. We can do take-out, but we’d rather you come and be here and enjoy the moment.”