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Marsing Senior Center rebrands itself as The Sandbar – Café with a Cause

The Sandbar, which serves as Marsing's senior center, draws customers of all ages. Photo by Pete Grady.

The Sandbar, which serves as Marsing’s senior center, draws customers of all ages. Photo by Pete Grady.

About 300 people showed up in January for the grand opening of the new Marsing Senior Center, close to one-fourth of the Owyhee County city’s population.

Last summer, the Marsing Senior Center had all of 30 members. Now membership has topped 400.

What happened?

The Marsing Senior Center became The Sandbar – Café with a Cause.

The senior center acquired and moved into the former Sandbar Riverhouse Restaurant along the shore of the Snake River and dropped the “senior center” name in favor of The Sandbar.

Things have changed in Marsing since Kimberly Coonis arrived a year ago with visions of turning the senior center into a mainstream café with a full menu, complete with an executive chef, Charles Curtis, hired away from the Yard House at The Village at Meridian.

“Why are so many other senior centers failing?” Coonis posed. “They have one meal to choose from. We think as you age, you should have more choices in life. Instead, choices are taken away. For us, it’s about make the experience enjoyable.”

The Marsing Senior Center acquired the former Sandbar Riverhouse Restaurant property and transformed the senior center into the Sandbar - Cafe with a Cause. Photo by Pete Grady.

The Marsing Senior Center acquired the former Sandbar Riverhouse Restaurant property and transformed the senior center into the Sandbar – Cafe with a Cause. Photo by Pete Grady.

Dropping “senior center” purposely blurs the age dynamic at The Sandbar, which Coonis regards as café for the general public. All ages mix at The Sandbar, which, Coonis said, is a good thing for seniors.

The senior center for the past two years had sought ways to build membership by moving away from the stereotype of pigeonholing seniors when many are young in spirit, said Pete Smit, board chairman of Marsing Senior Citizens Inc., the formal name of the nonprofit.

“Kim had done similar programs in Hailey that made sense to us,” Smit said. “Kim is just an extremely strong manager. She brings to the table an incredible amount of expertise and energy.”

The Sandbar is just a first step for Coonis. She has visions of acquiring neighboring property and building a 36-unit apartment house for those 55 or older. Marsing has two low-income housing apartments, each with 12 units.

“But they are full and they have waiting lists,” Coonis said. “There is no place for (low-income seniors) to go.”

The prior Sandbar Riverhouse Restaurant had shut down in March 2015. The Marsing Senior Center acquired the property in September 2016 for $275,000 and reopened as The Sandbar – Café with a Cause on Nov. 29. Coonis secured a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant, $60,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $15,000 from the city of Marsing and $25,000 from the local emergency fund supplied by community donations plus money from selling the old Marsing Senior Center.

The new senior center in Marsing is a mainstream cafe that doubles as a senior center. Photo by Pete Grady.

The new senior center in Marsing is a mainstream cafe that doubles as a senior center. Photo by Pete Grady.

The café generates $300 to $800 a day – “as opposed to having $10 in your donation tray” – that funds the Meals on Wheels program. Meals on Wheels sends out 50 meals a day, a 30 percent increase, thanks to having an executive chef behind the meals. The number could be higher.

“Some Meals on Wheels people now go to the café,” Coonis said. “It’s empowering people to get out of their homes.”

The Sandbar as a café is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Coonis plans to add Friday night dinner when the weather warms up.

It has three separate dining rooms, one of them easy to close off for education courses or counseling with families and other senior center programs.

The Sandbar currently has 50 to 100 customers a day. Coonis would like to increase that to 125 to 150.

About Teya Vitu

Teya Vitu is an Idaho Business Review reporter, covering commercial real estate, construction, transportation and whatever else may intrigue him in the moment. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_TeyaVitu.