By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette — Lakea Strong believes in second chances.
That’s why, when she opened her new restaurant, Yvonne’s Bakery and Cafe, on Third Street, she was determined to hire those who needed a break. “Everyone has the potential to grow,” she said recently in her tidy, brightly painted cafe.
Strong, who gave birth to her first child at 16, said she needed lots of second chances to grow into the kind of woman who has one career at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, and another as an urban entrepreneur.
The tidy cafe she opened, with its high ceilings and shiny tables, was named after her grandmother, the woman who raised her, because her own mother was only 16 when she was born.
A ‘92 graduate of LaSalle High School, she ran track and played basketball, eventually becoming the number one high jumper in New York state. She had offers from colleges, but she knew she had a son to take care of.
Her grandmother never made her feel less for getting pregnant. “She told me, you’re not the first one and you won’t be the last one,” Lakea said, smiling. The whole bakery is a testimony to her grandmother’s love, she said. That’s why she’s always trying to hire staff that might need a hand up.
She went on to finish community college at Lakeland in Cleveland, and later took at job at Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital. While she is on leave from her job as operations supervisor, she stays in touch with her boss, Sheila Kee, the hospital’s chief operating officer. Kee is a big fan of Strong’s, calling her a “super employee,” and said that the hospital had already ordered some baked goods from the restaurant.
”She brought me a piece of her peach cobbler,” Kee said of Strong. “Oh, my God, it was very good.”
Strong, now married and the mother of six children, hopes to make a name for her baked goods with her signature offerings, including the cobbler, and red velvet cake, but especially her sweet potato pie.
The expansive cafe has already hosted a wedding, a shower and a little girl’s tea party. She has also begun to offer live music in the evenings. She had her first band entertain recently and 40 or so people showed up. One couple saw the commotion from the big windows overlooking the street and walked in to join the performance. Even Strong joined in the performance, singing “He Loves Me,” to the karaoke machine.
It’s just what she was hoping for. “I wanted a place for the community to gather,” she said.
The menu includes breakfast items, sandwiches, salads soups and homemade baked goods. There is comfortable seating near a fireplace for the free Wi-Fi available, and plans to continue live events from karaoke to open mic nights. In addition, a new book club started last week.
Lakea is a member of the new book club. Her choice of reading is appropriately titled “Unconditional: It’s not a dead end if it takes you somewhere you need to go.”
Yvonne’s Bakery and Cafe is located at 447 Third St. The cafe is open Monday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. On Friday and Saturday it is open from 6:30 a.m. to midnight. The place is open every fourth Sunday. For more information call 285-5200.