Eclectic job/life skills training café serving fresh local foods daily
Some of the Starfish crew: Di Fillhart, Ashley Sharp, Scott Mandile, Brett Hynes
“Fresh and local; that’s our deal,” beams Di Fillhart, Starfish Café owner.
The Starfish Cafe supports local businesses like Honestly Beef in Collin, Mississippi, and shops locally in Bay St. Louis at Claiborne Market and Froogle’s.
“We have a standard menu, but also daily specials that reflect what’s good regionally, Fillhart said. “We also grow as much as we can: cucumber, tomato, zucchini, herbs, winter cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts...”
The menu features soups, pastas, burgers, salads, sandwiches, desserts and more. There’s a special section for children, low calorie options, and visitors can request special items if they are gluten-free.
Patrons of the Starfish Cafe appreciate how bright and cheerful the decor is, inside and out. Crops grow happily along the pathway leading to the dining room and the calming blue building stands out on Main Street with handmade, brightly decorated garden boxes for homegrown herbs.
“We try to keep our environmental footprint the size of a baby bootie,” Fillhart laughs.
From the start, visitors feel good. Starfish Cafe is a place of happiness and healing.
“Food is so important to our health,” Fillhart said, sitting in her sun-filled dining room. “In many ways, there’s no better medicine than fresh locally grown food, and we have that right here. Our motto is ‘Wellness for a Lifetime.’”
Starfish Cafe makes sure everyone in the community has access to healthy food. In fact, the customers set their own prices.
“Pay what you want for your meal,” Fillhart said. “I’ve dedicated my life to ministry and I know whatever you get donated, you can make that work.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Fillhart was 14 when she worked in her first restaurant. Her son Zac, formally a chef at the Sycamore House, moved to the Bay to be close to his mom and help with her efforts. Zac is now the executive chef at Starfish Cafe.
“Zac was so young when he started cooking he had to stand on a potato box,” Fillhart laughed. “He was helping right beside me at a church camp.”
Fillhart was working in Brooklyn doing street ministry when Hurricane Katrina hit. She came to the Gulf Coast just 10 days after the storm to assist with disaster relief with a friend. They called their mission “Operation Starfish” inspired by the popular starfish story by Loren Eiseley and the sentiment of “I made a difference for that one.”
Operation Starfish connected with City Team, who directed them to Bay St. Louis. These deep connections, especially with St. Rose de Lima Church, have kept Fillhart here and the starfish mission continues to grow and evolve.
Starfish Cafe opened on June 5, 2013, and has made a big impact on the community ever since. Not only does Fillhart’s team nourish the body, they make it their mission to educate and train those who need jobs.