Just when it seems Palo Alto has solidified into "Me Central," meet the Foley-Hughes family. The founders of Ada's Cafe have created a nonprofit hybrid cafe that heartily feeds both stomach and soul.
Formerly a Hollywood event planner, Kathleen Foley-Hughes resumed catering as a volunteer at her sons' schools in Palo Alto. When her son Charlie got to middle school, it bothered her that he and other special education students felt isolated. So she founded a cafe, first at Terman Middle School and then at Gunn High School, where all students can work together in a venture that pleases customers. They put in a bid to become to vendors of the renovated Mitchell Park Community Center, and were thrilled to be chosen.
Then came construction issues. While the rest of us merely whined about the endless delays, Kathleen and her sons Charlie and Peter had a business to keep going. Having trained a staff of developmentally disabled young adults in food preparation, Kathleen said, "It felt wrong to say, 'I'll call you' (when the library opens).''
So they ramped up the catering and special events side of Ada's (both a riff on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the name of a family friend) until the community center finally opened in December 2014. Kathleen credits clients including Innovation Endeavors, the Schmidt Family Foundation and Palo Alto city staff for regularly booking or referring clients to Ada's. The advisory board includes her husband, investment banker Tony Hughes.
The menu covers a lot of territory, with standard and imaginative items for breakfast and lunch.
"I always have big ideas," Kathleen said, "But it's a very small space."
Indeed, there is seating for about 15 people inside, with padded benches and thick wood-block tables on a terrazzo floor. Cheerful design features on avocado-colored walls add to the attraction. Outside are many more tables in the shade, plus a water dish for canine friends.
Order at the counter and take a number to your table. Or not. Sometimes they just remember. Sometimes delivery can take a while.
Most of the food is sourced locally. Purveyors include Moksha Coffee Roasting of Mountain View and Full Belly Farms, which runs Community Supported Agriculture programs on the Midpeninsula.
Among the deservedly popular sandwiches are The Wonderful Wendy ($9), a tangy festival of turkey, bacon, Havarti cheese, caramelized onions and chipotle aioli, served on nine-grain bread or a toasted francese roll.
In cooler months, try Ada's chili, featuring beef short ribs and black beans.
Vegetarian sandwiches range from the caprese ($10) -- a summery delight with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and pesto -- to grilled cheese ($5).
If you're in a hurry, there are salads and boxed lunches in the case at the counter. You may also notice the enticing pastries, including fresh-baked cookies ($2.50) and scones ($3) from Ada's kitchen or morning buns ($3.50) from Kelly's French Bakery in Santa Cruz. House-made chocolate-chip toffee scones and apple turnovers ($4) often disappear early.
Breakfast items include frittata ($4), quiche ($4) and fruit-and-yogurt parfait ($4.50).
Need a gift? Ada's ready-made products include seasonal jams, fruit granola, croutons, toffee and a spice rub.
Besides excellent coffee, beverages include fresh lemonade and orange juice. The sunrise ($5) is a beach-worthy cocktail of orange juice, peach nectar and raspberry puree on ice.
The menu covers enough territory that you won't get bored, but they don't have the capacity to do everything at once. This summer, soups will make way for smoothies and frozen coffee drinks.
Ada's now has 50 full- and part-time workers, including mainstream high school and college students. These students learn marketing as well as how to be compassionate teachers, while the employees with disabilities get to interact with their peers.
"They are so excited to have a place that wants them there," said Kathleen's son Peter, who helps manage Ada's.
My one complaint about Ada's isn't their fault. A couple of times I've been seated inside while children threw tantrums. How about placing your order and sitting outside? Let's all absorb some of the community spirit so ably represented by Ada's Cafe.
3700 Middlefield Road.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.