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Popular café owners on Ogden’s Historic 25th Street forced to stop ‘pay it forward' meals, find new ways to help homeless

Posted at 10:01 PM, Sep 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-28 00:21:35-04

OGDEN, Utah — As people walk into Jessie Jean’s Café on Ogden’s Historic 25th Street, they are greeted with something different: acceptance. The walls are filled with quotes and art that break down stigmas. Jessie Jean’s Café is a safe place for many, and that’s exactly what couple who owns the restaurant always wanted.

“I never started this for money. I started this to make change,” Anna Davidson said. She and her husband Ron started Jessie Jean’s Café more than 20 years ago.

Above the kitchen hundreds of receipts fill the wall, each representing a "pay it forward meal."

The café is known for helping feed the homeless, but they’ve had to stop the program during the pandemic.

“We are pretty well known for the ‘pay it forwards,’ and having to cut the pay it forwards off during COVID was pretty rough,” Davidson said.

Between COVID-19 restrictions and the café only doing only about half of their normal sales, Davidson said they had to cut the program.

“It was hard for me to turn away a homeless person and say I can’t do it right now," she said. "It sucked, bad."

Despite the change, Davidson hasn’t stopped helping — she’s just had to change gears. She’s taken a full-time job helping homeless people in Ogden, and she and her husband finally started a nonprofit they’ve been dreaming about, she said.

“During COVID, we finally got our nonprofit put together — the Rad Hero Foundation,” Davidson said.

The new foundation will help even more people struggling with homelessness, Davidson said.

Finding new ways to help isn’t stopping with Davidson.

Employee Kyleigh Viernow is preparing to have baby number two and is raising money to help people get affordable therapy during Suicide Awareness Month.

“I just hand-painted all these mugs. Taken a lot of time, but it’s been worth it,” she said.

Viernow paints each mug with the suicide awareness hotline, and with help from Color Me Mine, the mugs are fired and ready to sell.

“If you see someone drinking out of this in public, you’re going to ask them about it, and that’s what it’s about,” she said.

Each employee in the café is passionate about helping others while bettering themselves. While business has been extremely tough and slow, Davidson said she continues to fight to keep the café open because she has big plans for the place.

“Our end game was for my husband Ron and I to gift our business to the staff,” she said.

As Davidson prepares to take on new challenges helping others, she hopes the café can survive the pandemic so she can hand the business over to the staff, who is like family.

For more information on the Rad Hero Foundation, click here.

For more information on Jessie Jean’s Café, click here.