By Stan Friedman
PHOENIX, AZ (October 21, 2014) — Genesis Covenant Church owns and worships at a mall, partners with a ministry started by shock rocker Alice Cooper, and now has its Wednesday-night meetings at one of the city’s newest and most popular restaurants—which also happens to be located on its property.
The Original Breakfast House (OBH) has been an answer to prayer for its owner and for the church, which now holds its Wednesday-night meetings at the restaurant.
Retired restaurateur John Stidham was bored and looking for a new restaurant opportunity as well as a way to serve God. Genesis wanted a new tenant for the building with an interior that had all but been destroyed by the previous occupant.
Stidham, who owned and operated 10 restaurants over the course of 40 years in California before retiring to Phoenix, was driving home from the church he attended at the time when he saw the sign advertising the building was for rent. So he attended one of the Genesis’ Sunday services hoping to begin a conversation about the building.
He loved the worship, and kept coming back. And he also had several talks with church leaders about the possibility of opening a restaurant that would serve breakfast and lunch.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it,” says Stidham. “I kept asking for things, and they’d say yes. And I kept asking—I was hoping they were going to say no.”
But Stark says the church had been praying the Lord would provide a good use for the building, which had been leased to a restaurant when Genesis purchased the mall several years ago. The church longed for different tenants.
“So here we had a building we didn’t see any potential in, but God did even before we bought the place,” Stark says.
It was understandably difficult to see the potential. “When we bought the place it was disgusting,” Stark says. “I have no idea how they passed the health code.”
It wasn’t just the conditions that were awful. “It was a total den of iniquity,” Stark says. “I’m not mincing words. They were selling drugs out of the place.”
When the restaurant owners asked if the church would let them offer off-track betting, the church said no. “So they up and left,” Stark says. “They gutted everything they could.” The church didn’t complain that the owners broke the lease.
And that’s when Stidham drove by. After the lease was signed, it took a long time to remodel the building. “It took us three or four months just to fumigate the place and get rid of the pests,” Stidham says.
But since Stidham opened the OBH, it has become one of the most popular restaurants in Phoenix, garnering numerous five-star reviews on Yelp. Diners often have to stand in long lines to get a table.
Stark confesses to exaggerating slightly but says, “Most of our Genesis folks can’t eat there on Sundays because it’s too full, it’s too packed.”
There is no wait for Genesis members at their Wednesday gatherings, which was started at the suggestion of Stidham. He serves the attendees, who number as many as 65, a dinner they pay for by donation.
Stidham says half-jokingly that he suggested the Wednesday meeting in part for “selfish” reasons. “It bothered me that when I opened the restaurant, I couldn’t go to church on Sunday. How do I honor God and not go to church?” By offering a meal, he adds, “People could come right from work or pickup their families and come.”
“John always makes something new, something fabulous, something different,” Stark says.
Up to 65 people attend the midweek gathering the congregation calls “Fuel,” which is led by the church’s teaching pastor who often engages the attendees in question-and-answer sessions.
In addition to opening the restaurant on Wednesday nights, Stidham also has made it available to nonprofits for fundraisers. “We do a lot of community outreach,” he says.
Stark says the restaurant has been great for the church beyond supplying it with income and a Wednesday night meeting spot. “I think it’s just added to the vibe and culture of who we are,” he explains. “We’ve always been big on planting, even from the first days of meeting in schools.”
The church purchased the mall in 2011. At the time it had four tenants. Today there are 11 businesses and organizations that include a carpet and tile store, pest-control business, a counseling office, and thrift store for Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock ministry, which also leases the church space during the week.
“We’re almost to the point where we can cover the entire mortgage with tenant income,” Stark says.
Stark is grateful that National Covenant Properties provided the loan to the church, which had only 150 members at the time but has since grown to a total of about 450 people. “I can’t believe they did it, but they believed in us.”