Rebecca Tolbert brings Raytown her signature mix of dining and wellness via Serenity Cafe

Serenity Cafe.  // Photo by Lucia Verzola

Last December, Kansas City Kansas native Rebecca Tolbert opened the doors of Serenity Cafe, a space focused on bringing coffee and wellness together. After losing her mother to congestive heart failure, Tolbert drew inspiration from this difficult experience in creating the cafe’s atmosphere.

“I remember times when I had to find my own peace and serenity,” says Tolbert, “and I wanted people to come in here and feel that love and that safeness and just feel comfortable. Like a home away from home. That was kind of my whole dream about incorporating wellness into a coffee shop.”

Located in Raytown just off of Blue Ridge Blvd., the building that Serenity Cafe is now home to was once Bennetti’s Coffee Experience, a roastery, and coffee shop. After sitting vacant for years, Tolbert reinhabited the space last December. Serenity was only open a few short months before the pandemic hit.

“We had a nice crowd within that two and a half months and then opening back up, it was it was like a ghost town,” says Tolbert. “All the kids from the school and the teachers and the church members, that was all gone. And the people were so scared to get out.” This prompted Tolbert to reorganzie—utilizing what the business’ outdoor space could offer.

The front of the building facing Blue Ridge Blvd. has a wooden canopy that covers couches and chairs for customers to sit outdoors. There are also a few small rod iron tables on the porch at the backside of the cafe.  Before the pandemic, she would have an open mic for live musicians every Saturday. She recently hosted an event that allowed live musicians to play outdoors, as well as a night for poetry readings.

The interior of Serenity Cafe. // Photo by Lucia Verzola

With an extensive menu that includes coffee, tea, kombucha, pastries, and savory lunch items prepared fresh, Serenity Cafe offers something for all. Behind the clear plexiglass screen at the coffee bar, Tolbert recommended one of her favorite drinks to me, a pumpkin spice chai. Order it iced for a way of getting away with drinking what tastes like a creamy chai milkshake as early as 8 am when the cafe opens. They also sell on-tap kombucha made by KC’s Scoby Masters. Pick from berry or coffee-flavored “Tea-Biotics.”

I tried the gouda panini, an elevated grilled cheese with veggies, and garlic aioli. The turkey pastrami sandwich offers just the bite you crave in a sandwich—flavorful meat, fresh veggies, bread that doesn’t glue itself to the roof of your mouth, and just the right amount of mayo. The savory menu also includes items with salmon that Tolbert smokes herself, with the fish being a personal favorite of hers.

The cafe offers various baked goods daily including croissants, muffins, and cookies. I recommend the sweet potato cheesecake topped with toasted pecans, a combination of custardy cheesecake, buttery graham cracker crust, and the crunch of the toasted pecans.

Tolbert has carried over items to the cafe from Serenity Total Wellness: Yoni Yoga and Spa, her wellness center also located on Blue Ridge Blvd. that she opened a year and a half ago. “I was just doing private sessions and then I wanted to incorporate this as part of my wellness journey. Tolbert has created simple syrups from natural sugars and different herbs and spices (lavender, sage, turmeric) that she can add to drinks. The blueberry sage lemonade is one of her favorite drinks. She sells bagged sage and rosemary sugar and is working on selling salts. Tolbert is working on bringing fresh juices to the menu, as well as anti-inflammatory drinks, and a CBD line. She has plans to offer body products, such as a coffee facial scrub and body butter.

Tolbert was unprepared for what opening Serenity Cafe at the end of 2019 would mean. “Anytime you’re a new business, establishing yourself and getting the word out and getting people to just know that you’re here is already a challenge. COVID has made that unpredictable and that’s the biggest challenge. I was up for the new business challenge. Corona took the dynamics off. There’s no pace to anything.”

In navigating the inconsistency of sales from day to day, she has struggled with staffing. She currently has two full-time employees and one part-time. However, the joy that has come with bringing her menu to Raytown has made the experience worthwhile for Tolbert.

“I love when people come in here and they can feel the love and the and they enjoy the food and the drinks,” says Tolbert. “I think that’s because I put so much love and time and effort into this. And that’s my reward. When people come in here and they can feel it and they can see it. And it makes them feel good.”

Rebecca Tolbert, founder and owner of Serenity Cafe // Photo courtesy of Lucia Verzola

Follow Serenity Cafe on Facebook. Visit their website for the full menu. They also offer pick-up and delivery options, as well as discounts for teachers, active military, veterans, and first-responders.

Categories: Food & Drink