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Restaurant uses food, music to bridge church, community

The restaurant at 317 E. Main St. in downtown Medford evolved in the past few years from a pizza parlor to a grinder sandwich shop. Now it has a new look as a combination coffeehouse, sandwich shop and music venue -- with a Christian flavor.

The Bridge, which opened early this month, specializes in classic Italian submarine sandwiches. On Friday and Saturday nights, it offers live music in a non-alcoholic environment. There's also a stack of board games such as Monopoly to pull out and play.

The goal of this new family eatery is more than just filling stomachs and providing entertainment, though. It's a business and also a ministry.

Created by Al and Mary Laurence, together with his sister and brother-in-law, Kay and Randall Dega, the Bridge aims to serve as a bridge between the church and the community, the Laurences said.

See hearts turn around to Jesus -- that's the whole reason we're doing this, Mary Laurence said in an interview at the restaurant Tuesday.

Some people won't set foot in a church, and offering food and entertainment is a way to reach them and provide an example, said Randall Dega.

The Bridge gives us an opportunity to minister and pray and actually show the community you can be a successful business person and still walk with the Lord.

The eatery, which is owned and operated as a nonprofit called Reach Out Ministries, evolved out of the Friday night street preaching the Laurences led in downtown Medford. They brought coffee and Christ to cruisers.

Al Laurence, who is associate pastor at Joy Christian Fellowship in Medford, has business experience but is new to restaurant work. He owned a camera repair shop and ran a commercial bee business.

He said some people told him that opening a business would be impossible in January, but that hasn't proven to be the case.

We're not breaking records, but we're steadily increasing, said Al Laurence, 43.

The place attracts a diverse group of people, including students from the nearby Rogue Community College, he said.

He said the lion's share of the net profit will go back into the community. Some possibilities are educational and outreach programs for youth.

Bringing together a diverse group of people to share ideas is what he hopes The Bridge _ which touts itself as Medford's meeting place -- will do.

We're hoping by having our coffeehouse, we can connect people together and have a better Medford.

As he talked at the coffee counter, Laurence tutored his home-schooled 10-year-old son, Caleb. He and his wife also have two young daughters.

The couple has high hopes for downtown Medford, which they see as becoming more of a place for people to gather.

It (downtown Medford) is not dead, Mary Laurence said. It's what you make it to be. It's alive and it's going to be more alive.

The music featured at The Bridge is mostly Christian, but there's some secular bands as well, her husband said. But he added no music that glorifies crime, violence or drugs is heard at The Bridge.

Al and Mary Laurence started the nonprofit Bridge restaurant as a ministry and social gathering place for downtown Medford. - Photo by Jim Craven