Print Edition

  Email News Updates

SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: A Restaurant and an Instrument for Hope

By Mark Pitonzo


“You are not here merely to make a living, you are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”
— Woodrow Wilson

Hope Café and Tea House owner Matt Cullipher and his wife Mary Christin Cullipher. (PHOTO CREDIT: HOPE Café AND TEA HOUSE)

SALINA — When Matthew Cullipher opened the Hope Café and Tea House in 2017, he had two missions that he was trying to accomplish. The first mission was to provide a variety of delicious food and beverages that replicated the taste and feel of countries such as Peru, Columbia, Venezuela, and Italy. That mission has been easily accomplished with more to come on that. But as a nonprofit entity, the second mission of the Hope Café was to help children and adults living in extreme poverty. While that mission may never be fully realized, Cullipher and his organization have made a significant improvement in the lives of people less fortunate than many of us. 

The obvious question to most people is what would prompt him to take on such an enormous mission in countries with which he was unfamiliar. It began back in 1999 as Cullipher traveled to Peru for his initial visit with a church group. They went there to construct a new school for the children in the area. While on that mission, Cullipher was overwhelmed with the extreme poverty that he witnessed, the lack of food and water, and the absence of educational opportunities for the people that lived there. Former NBA basketball player Magic Johnson once said, “All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and somebody who believes in them.” That somebody happened to be Matt Cullipher. Since that trip, Matt has dedicated himself to helping people in several countries overcome poverty and a lack of educational opportunities through the proceeds generated through the Hope Café in collaboration with The People Project.

Founded by Cullipher more than 15 years ago, The People Project is a charitable organization based in Syracuse, whose mission is to provide humanitarian support for families living in poverty around the world. It has helped more than 400,000 families in 15 countries globally. The People Project provides funding and support for humanitarian needs around the globe including food and water programs, orphanages, schools, and churches. This important program has given away more than $1 million in aid worldwide. Cullipher opened the Hope Café to help fund The People Project’s mission while also supporting families in the Syracuse area affected by drug addiction and homelessness. The Hope Café gives 100 percent of the profits from its operations to The People Project to support programs in New York state and around the globe. Desmond Tutu once said that “hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” The Hope Café is bringing light to the world. In conjunction with the People Project, it has helped people in 13 countries and provided more than 600,000 meals.


How do they generate the money to support these projects? Let’s start with the fact that the café has a wonderful and relaxing atmosphere. The staff begins by offering drinks that aren’t readily available at other cafés. It begins with Emoliente, which is a Peruvian classic offered by the vendors on the streets of Peru. It is made from toasted barley and herbs, and may also contain flax seeds, dried horsetail herbs, alfalfa leaves, plantain leaves, chamomile, or lemongrass. It can also be sweetened with citrus, honey, and cinnamon and has many health benefits. The café also offers a variety of smooth coffee that smells as rich and wonderful as it tastes.

The Hope Café’s cuisine is a fusion of American, Italian, and Peruvian foods. Matt’s favorite item on the menu is the breakfast sandwich as it has a variety of flavors blended perfectly together. The café offers home-made soups, main dishes, and desserts that you’ll likely not find anywhere else in Central New York. Those offerings include delicious empanadas, Liege waffles (named for the town in Belgium), baclava, and a Jack Daniel’s chicken sandwich. 

The Hope Café faced challenges along the way and was able to get help in navigating them.

 “I can truly say that if it wasn’t for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Onondaga Community College (OCC), we would have had a much more difficult time starting this restaurant. There were so many interruptions and speed bumps to get through that we would not have been able to do this without the help of SBDC Advisor Mark Pitonzo. He helped us to formulate the strategy as well as help make that strategy come to life,” Cullipher said. “Mark helped us to identify resources that were available to us in the community, create the business plan, structure financial projections including cash-flow analysis and income statements, and helped us with our applications for financial assistance from the programs offered by the federal government because of the pandemic.”

If you visit the Hope Café, you’re not only going to enjoy wonderful food and beverages, but you will also be dining with a purpose knowing that it is providing hope to those in need around the world with every meal.

Tim Robbins’ character in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy Dufresne, said, “Hope is a good thing, maybe even the best of things, and good things never die.” And the Hope Café is one of the best of things in Central New York.

The Hope Café is located at 920 Old Liverpool Road in the town of Salina. In addition to dining in, it offers curbside pickup and delivery. For more information, you can visit the café on Facebook or at its website: 

Advisor’s Business Tip: A big vision can take you a long way in your pursuit of fulfilling your dream of owning a business. Things will invariably go wrong on your path to a successful business endeavor. It’s imperative to keep the big vision in mind as it’ll enable you to work your way back to a successful path and help you overcome the “potholes” you’ll need to sidestep on that path. It won’t always be the direction you had planned or anticipated, but your big vision becomes your guiding light, which in turn helps you navigate through the darkness. Always remember that perseverance should accompany your big vision as you’ll need that to keep moving forward. Sometimes, when things go “sideways” on your path to achieving your business vision, you must commit yourself to the perseverance necessary to move forward, regardless of the discomfort and fear surrounding the next steps.                          ν

Mark Pitonzo is a state-certified business advisor at the Onondaga SBDC’s satellite office located at Onondaga Community College @Liverpool. Contact him at

Thank You For Visiting