Jenna’s Coffeehouse helps builds community in Johnson

4 min read

Walking into Jenna’s Coffeehouse feels like walking into a room full of old friends. Young families tote newborns, retirees meet up, and workers chat over coffee or the café’s delicious sandwiches.

The building itself adds to the warm feeling. Centrally located on Main Street in Johnson, Vermont, it is brimming with natural light and historical character. It was built as a residence in 1884 and lovingly restored in 2022, from its stained-glass windows to its ornate moldings.

But sometimes, the deeper impact of a place isn’t obvious at first glance. That’s certainly true at Jenna’s Coffeehouse, which supports the community in more ways than meet the eye.

Building community

Jenna’s Coffeehouse is one of the few cafés in the Village of Johnson where you can grab breakfast or lunch, but it serves a more critical need in the community: providing a safe workplace for people in recovery.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, one in twelve Vermonters lives with substance-use disorder. Dawn and Greg Tatro tragically lost their daughter Jenna to the disease in 2019. The same year, they founded Jenna’s Promise to help women in recovery access the resources and community they need to rebuild their lives. The coffeehouse is a partnership between Jenna’s Promise and Two Brothers Bakehouse that complements the recovery journey by offering a supportive work environment and sober living quarters.

The coffeehouse takes up the entire ground floor of the historic residence that Dawn and Greg bought for the project. In 2022, they partnered with Efficiency Vermont, Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (VPPSA), and 3E Thermal to make the building more energy efficient.

“After working with Efficiency Vermont on another project, we realized what a huge difference it made. Working with you is so easy! I could not believe the support that was given,” said Dawn.

A fancy upgrade

The historic residence, formerly known as the “fancy house” in the 1800s, had seen a lot of neglect over the years. The roof was beginning to cave, and the building was a bit of an eyesore for downtown Johnson. But the Tatro family had a vision of what it could become and how it could help the community.

“It was pretty cool to be able to bring the thing back to life. Just by giving it that extra loving care, it really made a big difference. It's now the fancy house again,” said Dawn.

Efficiency Vermont and the Tatros developed a comprehensive plan, taking advantage of all available rebates, to make the building more energy efficient, less drafty, and more cost-effective, year after year.

3E Thermal stepped in as the primary contact and contractor for the Tatros during the construction process. The weatherization organization air sealed and insulated the building, including a new community room and more living quarters. They replaced the oil boiler with heat pumps and heat recovery ventilation and installed ENERGY STAR® kitchen equipment.

The improvements to the space received incentives from their electric utility, the Village of Johnson Water & Light Dept., a member of Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (VPPSA). “Jenna’s Coffeehouse is a great cause, and we’re so glad our community-owned electric utility could contribute funding to help heat and cool the space with efficient technology,” said Erik Bailey, Village Manager of the Village of Johnson. “Partnering with VPPSA and Efficiency Vermont to provide incentives that help local nonprofits reduce their fossil fuel use is one of the ways we show that community is at the heart of the Village of Johnson.”

“Our mindset was, let’s do this right instead of just piecemealing it together. Let’s put in the money, and it will save money in the long run. And it will save the environment, and the community can feel good about it,” said Dawn.

Reflecting on the journey

Since the café opened in December 2022, it has become a town fixture. In place of a dilapidated building is a thriving business in the center of town. The Tatros are taking a moment to enjoy the new space and its impact.

“It’s pretty fun to come in here and see that, you know, it wasn't but a year ago that this place was empty.”

Greg Tatro, President and Co-Founder, Jenna's Promise

The café employees are enjoying the reactions from the community, too.

“So many people have come in here saying, ‘This is amazing!’ One was an 89-year-old woman who used to be friends with the girl who lived here when it was a family house. She was just blown away,” said Rachael Goulet, a café employee.

Renovation is an important way to keep Vermont’s older housing stock strong and resilient. Energy-efficient renovation takes things a step further, by keeping ongoing maintenance costs and bills low, and occupants safer and more comfortable. For organizations like Jenna’s Coffeehouse, these less visible upgrades help keep down costs so that they can better serve the community.

“We helped the Tatros create a comfortable, affordable, and healthy space,” said Steve O’Malley, Efficiency Vermont’s Energy Consultant for the project. “But the fact that they are providing this service to the community, that’s the biggest part of the story. We need more spaces like this.”