A bubble of activity surrounds Calvin Eaton, and pearls of sweat circle his face during a sultry summer afternoon. Inside 540WMain, a community center in Rochester's Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood, Eaton is helping facilitate the work of three artists and two teenage interns.
540WMain is a Swiss Army knife of a community center. Inside, there is a conference room, a gallery, and a commercial kitchen, and there's an outside courtyard currently under renovation. Eaton, the man in charge of the unique space, is just as versatile.
A prominent Rochester food blogger, Eaton is starting to focus his attentions on promoting the community, and 540WMain, which opened earlier this year, has been an important step for him. The center is a space for educational programs and events for all ages, but does emphasize working with Rochester youth — especially through afterschool and college preparatory programs. Arts and culinary education is also central to the mission at 540WMain.
Eaton runs the Gluten Free Chef blog, which he credits as the power behind all of his work. "Me being here now is because of the blog that I started in 2012, when I was severely ill," Eaton says, and it's clearly evident he's proud of his website.
Today, there's a team of writers working on the Gluten Free Chef, which revolves around all things gluten-free, including recipes, restaurants, and events. Eaton and his team last July released the Rochester Gluten Free Guide, a quarterly print and digital publication (and first of its kind for the city) completely concentrated on living a gluten-free lifestyle in Rochester. A fall issue is due in October.
Next year, Eaton and the Gluten Free Chef will be working with a co-packer to launch a series of baking mixes — Eaton is eyeing to start small by selling the mixes online through his blog, on social media, and at the Rochester Public Market.
The missions of the blog and community space overlap; Eaton wants to demonstrate how people can eat and live well, especially if they're interested in a gluten-free diet. The kitchen of 540WMain will be available for schools and organizations to rent for classes on how to cook for a healthy lifestyle — which can be challenging in a city known for cheeseburgers on top of macaroni salad and potatoes.
Eaton wants 540WMain to be a hub for all kinds of programs, from art and culinary to workshops that help students with school, like a currently running, free afterschool session that provides tutors and help with homework. In August, he supervised a team of teenage interns as they coordinated and then led a historical urban art walking tour of the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood — a regular offering for 540WMain, he hopes.
That first group will help "me train other interns over time, so that there is always a consortium of teen interns to pull from when there is a need for the tour to be led," Eaton says.
Eaton wants his programs to help interns prepare for life after high school. "He taught me to open up and interact with different people," says Ty'Sean Sizer, a 17-year-old who interned with Eaton this summer. "That's not what I have usually done."
Still, there's a broader mission to everything Eaton does: he wants to educate people about Rochester, particularly the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood. The goal is to have three separate walking tours of the surrounding neighborhood, each with its own theme.
"I think that we forget that this district is a nationally registered historic district, which means that it's federally registered and preserved territory," he says. Much of the housing in the neighborhood is original, tying those that walk there today to the time when Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass lived in Rochester, and Eaton believes the city can earn back the culturally significant reputation it held during those days.
Eaton observes every day how "people go up and down West Main Street to get to either the east or west side of the city, but a lot of the time they don't stop." Eaton now wants to give them a reason to pause.