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Business Dream Taking Shape

DALLAS -- Recent renovations on the outside of Walnut Plaza are just a hint of the changes happening to the building at the corner of Main Street and Walnut Avenue.

DALLAS -- Recent renovations on the outside of Walnut Plaza are just a hint of the changes happening to the building at the corner of Main Street and Walnut Avenue.

Inside, a realization of a dream is taking shape for a local family.

Dallas residents Anthony and Cheryl Cisneros have undertaken a gradual remodel of the building, which Cheryl's parents, Jan and Steve Ahrendt, bought in 2008. The two-year-long project is now nearing completion. The last portion of work will convert a former hair salon into a kitchen for a classic movie cafe, in honor of the couple's son, Steven.

Steven Cisneros, 18, is autistic and a recent graduate of Dallas High School. He has a love of movies, especially classics, and a gift for movie trivia.

"He can tell you actors, directors, studios," Cheryl said. "He is our inspiration for the movie cafe."

More than just a place to foster Steven's interest, The Classic Movie Cafe will also provide him and other individuals with developmental disabilities with on-site vocational training.

"This (plan) centers around making sure that Steven has a meaningful vocation in the community," Cheryl said.

The Cisneros plan to open the cafe this fall or winter. They say it will be a place where people can enjoy fresh, healthy food and beverages while being entertained at the same time.

"People can watch a family-friendly movie and they don't have to pay admission," Cheryl said.

A movie-themed dining room dotted with posters from classics such as "King Kong," "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Singing in the Rain," comfy couches and an enormous flat screen, complete with old movie-screen style curtains, is already finished.

Anthony, a restaurant manager for Claim Jumper in Clackamas, will run the restaurant and design the menu with the assistance of his daughter, Natalie Eriksen, who is attending school to become a nutritionist.

The cafe will be a place where clients of the training program will learn to do jobs that interest them, Cheryl said. She said Steven, for example, likes to set tables and he will be writing the movie trivia featured in the menus.

The Cisneros will launch vocational training a month or so before the cafe opens, to allow time for clients to learn their jobs before welcoming customers.

John Swanson, the city's economic development specialist and planner, said last week that the work the Cisneros have done has been a remarkable change for the building. The Cisneros took advantage of the city facade improvement loan and grant program to pay for some of the work.

Swanson said Walnut Plaza's prospects had been uncertain until the Ahrendts and Cisneros began making a home for a family business.

"This building was completely off our radar," he said. "It was one of those buildings in limbo."

Walnut Plaza also houses offices for Families & Autistic Children Together Succeed (FACTS), a nonprofit organization working to provide educational opportunities for children with autism Cheryl established in 1996 in Temecula, Calif., and The Auditing Firm of Jan Ahrendt, LLC. Cheryl is in the process of relocating FACTS operations to Dallas.

Anthony and Cheryl said they hope the cafe's atmosphere is just as welcoming as Dallas has been to their family.

Cheryl said when she and her family were considering moving to Oregon, they were struck by the beauty of this area when driving to the coast. She said it sounds like a cliche, but she saw a sign that said Dallas was three miles away and decided to look at the city as a new home.

They found Dallas charming and were struck by how accepting people were of Steven.

They want their customers to feel the same way when they walk through the doors of The Classic Movie Cafe.

"We want to have that comfortable, community feeling," Cheryl said.

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