By Jerry Davich Post-Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Giving simply to give, with no strings attached, no hidden agenda. That is the motto of coffee house owner Breanne Zolfo who is showing by example why kindness matters.
CROWN POINT, Ind.
Breanne Zolfo nervously laughed while standing in the checkout lane at Aldi's supermarket, waiting to surprise random customers by paying for their groceries.
Zolfo is usually a little anxious when she performs this gesture of goodwill toward strangers each month, never knowing how they will respond in public.
For four years, she and her co-workers have been able to pull this off by spending their own tip money from Zolfo's coffeehouse, Cafe Fresco, in Crown Point.
Recently, though, their monthly gesture was being recorded by "CBS This Morning," the nationally televised news show based in New York City. A news crew from the show, along with correspondent Meg Oliver, shadowed Zolfo for the day.
The crew converged at Zolfo's coffeehouse on the city square from different parts of the country to profile her for the show's segment, "A More Perfect Union." The popular piece illustrates, through people like Zolfo, what unites us as Americans is far stronger than what divides us.
"We read your column on Breanne and we just had to meet her for our show," producer Joe Annunziato said.
Annunziato stood off to the side inside the Aldi's store in Crown Point as two CBS cameramen video-recorded Zolfo as discreetly as possible at the checkout lane.
"Normally I'm not this nervous," Zolfo whispered to me in between customers.
Normally, she pours bottomless cups of positivity into the hearts and minds of her Cafe Fresco customers without any fanfare at all. If it wasn't for one of her customers, Martin Oleksy, of Cedar Lake, I would never have known about her selfless efforts or her cafe's soon-to-be-famous coffee cup sleeves.
"Write a letter to a soldier," one sleeve suggests.
"Drop off clothing to a shelter," another one suggests.
"Pay for a stranger's coffee," another states.
Since Zolfo opened Cafe Fresco six years ago, her corner shop has paid for more than 3,200 cups of coffee to strangers or to those less fortunate. Customers who perform the deed receive a free cup of coffee when they return with a photo or video of their effort.
"Anyone can just serve coffee," Zolfo told me.
When I first met her, I confided that I don't drink coffee even though it seems to be our country's go-to beverage. She confided to me that she never planned on opening a coffeehouse even though they seem to be all the rage these days.
"I just wanted to give back to my community. No strings attached. No ulterior motives," she said.
Naturally, for me anyway, I was skeptical. Yet once again my skepticism was wrong.
Zolfo is as genuine as they come. She sincerely wants to give back to her community, and to the larger community of our country. This has nothing to do with patriotism, a word that has become twisted in America these days, and everything to do with simply being a good person.
"As a father, you plant seeds in your children and hope they grow. But I never dreamed of this," said Michael Zolfo, Breanne's father, removing his glasses to wipe tears from his eyes.
He proudly watched his daughter work her magic at Aldi's as the CBS crew hovered around her. Michael and his wife, Mickey, showed up at Cafe Fresco at 7 a.m. Tuesday to watch a national spotlight shine on their 30-year-old daughter.
"We wouldn't miss this," said Mickey Zolfo, who teaches second grade students at Peifer Elementary School in Schererville.
At Aldi's, their nervous daughter and two of her coffeehouse co-workers, Kim Govert and Mia Augsburger, surprised a handful of unsuspecting customers.
"What? No way! I'm just blown away," replied one shopper, a man who was visibly dumbfounded by their gesture. "This is something that I usually do for other people."
After letting it sink in that he was the recipient of this gesture, the man insisted on taking a selfie photo with Zolfo and her co-workers.
"Everybody get in on this," he said, motioning for the CBS crew to also strike a pose.
Other shoppers were just as surprised, though not as animated. One older woman choked up for a hug.
Another guy demanded an appreciative hug for Zolfo and Augsburger, insisting, "Come on, bring it on in here," before leaving the store.
One woman after leaving the store told me she had never experienced such a gesture from a stranger.
Giving simply to give, with no strings attached, no hidden agenda.
"Who does this anymore?" she asked me rhetorically.
"Breanne does," I replied with a shrug.
Near the checkout lane, one customer told Zolfo, "You look familiar. You a movie star?"
She shyly smiled.
"I'm just trying to spread positivity," she replied.
Zolfo will be spreading her percolated positivity to a national audience Jan. 31 when the CBS morning show's "A More Perfect Union" is scheduled to air. I can't think of a more perfect person to be profiled than Zolfo, who didn't expect any of this media attention, nor did she seek it in any way.
She seemed just as nervous and modest when Oleksy introduced her to me last month. And just as relieved when the CBS crew finally left for the day.
"Thank you CBS This Morning for this amazing opportunity!" she wrote on her LinkedIn page the next day.
"It's amazing how much more community love we can spread when others are aware of our mission. Thank you Crown Point!"
Once again, she thanked her community without praising herself. How refreshing is such authentic humility these days?
"She's just always been like this," her father told me while quietly admiring his daughter.