published on February 17, 2016 - 2:20 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
One local family is bringing a unique business model to Downtown Fresno, serving comfort food as well as a supportive message for the community.

Tree of Life Cafe owners Carolyn and Steve Ocheltree say they were inspired to start a restaurant in order to help feed the body and soul of local residents. The business will focus on serving home cooked food to downtown crowds while employing recovering addicts.

“We really started thinking about this 20 years ago. There was just this burden in our hearts about the gap in our community for people who are getting sober and reintegrating into the community,” said Carolyn Ocheltree. “That’s often the challenge because it can be difficult to find work after coming through that.”

Recently the couple began soliciting feedback for their business plan, first at Fresno Pacific University’s 2015 Spark Tank Pitch Fest where they won $2,000 and then through the inaugural Create Here Business plan competition sponsored by the Downtown Fresno Foundation last fall.

While their idea failed to win the second competition, Ocheltree said the program prompted the business to begin looking at facilities in Downtown Fresno.

“We always felt that when the time was right, God would give us a sign,” she said. “When we were looking at spaces for the Create Here competition, it really seemed like a good time to get going with our business model.”

The couple, along with son Phillip Ocheltree, is now in the midst of renovating a 3,000-square-foot restaurant space on Kern Street across from The Republican.

Once complete, the space will feature reclaimed wood furniture and art made with refurbished wood pallets, concepts closely connected to the central business theme of finding use in previously discarded items, said Phillip Ocheltree.

“The name, Tree of Life, comes from a concept in the Bible,” he said. “We’re trying to start a restaurant that promotes healing and we felt that idea and name was very fitting.”

The cafe is expected to open early next month and will help create 10 jobs, most of which will be filled by individuals who have recently completed drug rehabilitation programs.

Tree of Life Café will be open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., serving cafeteria-style breakfast and lunch. Similar business models in larger cities inspired the concept and Carolyn Ocheltree said the style should suit the busy downtown lunch crowd while still offering slow-cooked meals.

“Our whole idea is that it’s slow food served fast. Stuff like soups, casseroles, lasagnas, stews and salads,” she said. “Things that we’ve taken the care and time to prepare but will be served quickly to you.”

Take-out will also be available, and Ocheltree said the café will offer take-home meals so customers coming in for lunch will be able to pick up dinner for their families.

“We are wanting Tree of Life Café to be a family atmosphere, so the minute you walk through our door, you’re part of our family,” she said.

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