Building Community with a Coffee House… The Pièce De Ré⋅sis⋅tance

I’ve saved the best for last!

What I’m most excited for… are the dinners. The special dinner events that bring people of the community together.

Now… this is partly why I’ve envisioned a coffee house instead of a cafe. The simplicity of the vehicle… for the events that we offer to stand out. And most of all, I want this to stand out.

Can you think of a meal that was one of your most cherished or most favorite?

What were the smells, the tastes, the sounds… who were the people? What made it so special?

jarsIn my previous church we had a congregation wide dinner ministry (dinner for eight). With the concept that eight people would bring a dish to share (potluck style) to an assigned host’s home. I love being involved in these kind of meals. They give people the opportunity to get to know other people. By a simple meal. Breaking bread together.

Some of my most favorite meals were when I rented a big three bedroom house in New Jersey, when I was working in Interior Design. Friends and new DSC06068connections would come and gather at my newly acquired residence for any holiday from Thanksgiving to Arbor Day. I had this big house & I wanted to share it. We converted two ordinary tables to fit 12-14 people — by using a 4×8 piece of particle board. Draping it with bed sheets (table clothes) and center pieces. Dishes were mismatched… no one cared. Everyone brought a dish to share… there were music, games, laughter, and wonderful memories.

210007307I want to host special dinners for people in the community with a similar bent to what I hosted in New Jersey. Serving family style… delicious food… a long dinner table set… with mis-matched colorful china and dishes… vintage cotton table clothes. Glasses… mason jars for flowers… dish towels for napkins (an idea recently seen at Foodheads during a catering event). Place settings a-symetrical… with very few… if none at all the same. Symbolizing diversity.

Food would be brought in via local catering companies.

This is where community is… around the table… breaking bread together.8b22432r

How does this work… we knock on doors… meet our neighbors… and personally invite. This is where I hope some of the barriers come down. We invite those who cannot afford next month’s rent and those who can. We serve. We offer a meal, a safe place, a comfortable environment. True hospitality. Authentic connection for real people living real lives.

Can you see it?

I can!

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Building Community… Through Art and Music

So, we’ve been talking about a community space where people frequent… the nucleus of a neighborhood. A gathering place.

Breaking down the components of using art and music to build community…

You’ve seen it… you’ve gone into a local eatery or coffee shop and there is a local artist (from the city or area) exhibiting their works. What I want to do looks somewhat similar, but the purpose is not to generate exposure to a local artist to help promote their works… to generate income for them. But, to build community. Build conversation. Build connection. If the exhibit generates exposure and they get income… that’s a bonus.

Who’s works would you envision on the walls that would accomplish this?

child-painted-handsIt’s time to think outside the box. We have artists everywhere! What about the sixth grade class at the local elementary… just down the street, or the elderly gentleman who’s been creating toilet seat mailbox 029sculptures (Barney Smith – San Antonio), or the autistic man who communicates through paintings. Maybe it’s the woman who creates the funky mailboxes, or the sixteen year old who is dreaming of creating custom shoes… maybe there are independent film makers trying their hand at documentaries. Who are the local artists? Not the up & coming artists that want to sell their wares. But, who do we have who live in our zip code who create, paint, photograph, collage, draw, sculpt and film?

Let’s use the same concept for music.

3372483487_d83a994034Who are the local musicians? Is it the guitar instructor who’s been giving lessons, is it the worship band or church choir, is it the 4th grade class recital, maybe it’s the teenage garage band… or a local saxophonist. Who are the people who reside in the community that sing, tap, jam, rock-out, and lift up a joyful noise… via instrument or voice? These are the “local musicians”.

Make sense?

Some events we would have to showcase the local artists and musicians in the community may include a local independent film festival, reggae night, folk night, praise night, perhaps a local recital. Maybe we rock it out with the teenage or college garage band.  Maybe we showcase the paintings from an organization that helps emotionally troubled people communicate… or vision board collages from job seekers. Maybe we have a talent show… or a coloring contest and exhibit the contenders.holding-hands

I want to showcase the talents from the people who live in our zip-code… who may not be up & coming, but, are people that love what they dabble in or communicate through the arts. Our not so average neighbors. How would we know about their talent unless we give them an opportunity to share? Or, give them a voice?

So simple, it doesn’t have to be complex. And, how do we do this? We knock on doors.

It all fits together.

In the poll I presented a few weeks ago, I was surprised that no one put down entertainment as a reason to revisit a favorite coffee house or eating establishment. Some of my favorite coffee houses included the entertainment.

The coffee house… getting to know the neighbors.

So, how does this coffee house stand out from all the other ones?

The goal is not to merely exist just to make a profit. Or, as an establishment you drive by, walk in, sit down with your laptop and have a cup of coffee… shop. The differences are in the connections with the people who live and work in the surrounding area and how those connections are established and nurtured. And, why. The goal is to strengthen the community. To partner businesses. To connect people to each other and to what is around them.

Nwe-Screen-DoorIt’s all in how we do things.

To be a nucleus of a neighborhood… ties must be formed. Otherwise, there is no nucleus. So, to build or form relationships, we first must know who people are. Who is the neighborhood? Who are the people that make up the community? Who are the businesses? Who are our city officials? Who are the law officers? Who represents our community/the region in which we live.

The same is true for learning the demographics… for learning who the customer is.Homeless cuddling dog by Kirsten Bole 100 dpi

Who is the woman who lives two houses down in the blue and white house, with the funky mailbox? Who is the man who stands on the street corner with a sign saying “will work for food”? Who is family with four kids, where the the dad lost his job? Who is the woman who was just promoted to management, she lives down the street… you know the one… the one with the big dog? To build community, we first must know who people are. What is their story?

So, how will we do this?

Outreach. By knocking on doors, taking time to canvass and get to know our neighbors. Learning their stories. It’s not done by handing out surveys. We’ll take a proactive approach… listen to concerns, understand individual needs, and connect. Building trust. Offering hospitality and invitation.

In the next few posts, I will be pulling apart how art, music, and local events (tied to outreach and hospitality) will play an intregal part in building community within the coffee house.

The Coffee House… Keeping it Simple.

I feel like it’s been a little while… it’s been a whirlwind week! So, let’s get back on track.

Today, I want to break apart the coffee house more.

The coffee house is very unique and special in this endeavor. Perhaps the most important piece. The focal point if you will. The coffee house itself is crucial as it is the vehicle for creating the community hub and in building community.  (More on this later.)  After all, between a coffee house and community resource center, where would you go? I have trouble imagining people flocking to a community resource center standing alone by itself.

With that being said, it must be simple. I’ve toggled back and forth over the years on what to do with it. Should it be a full service cafe/restaurant? Or, should it be a simple coffee house? I so much want it to be a cafe, since I have a passion for building community through food. But, the wisdom of simplicity won out.

So, what does that look like?

coffee-shop-sign-los-angelesThe coffee house will be full service, order at the counter, and we’ll deliver it to your table. Chalk boards with menu items hanging down. There will be good eats on the menu, including: sandwiches, soups, and bakery items — catered to people with and without food allergies. Hot drinks, of course. Including some specialty coffees (would prefer fair trade), latte, expresso, capachino, hot teas, hot apple cider, and chai. Cold drinks. Menu items will be cross marketed from local bakeries and caters. Meaning, we’ll sell their stuff… and, promote it.image.aspx

Thus eliminating the need for a large scale full service commercial kitchen and dealing with less commercial codes that would accompany a restaurant/cafe. This will also build ties and relationships within the local food business community. Empowering patrons to buy from local food establishments, connecting people to surrounding businesses they may not have been aware of, and broadening their taste buds. Simplicity with social responsibility.

There will be seating areas including overstuffed, inviting sofa and chairs, adequate lighting for reading and computer usage, wi-fi, used books to read, and board games; the eating areas will include tables and chairs, and some booths; there will be an outdoor patio and porch. There will also be an area for live music and room on the walls for art. Bulletin boards with neighborhood happenings. Space for a community center, I foresee an upstairs.

Simple coffee house.

Introduction: The Coffee House

So, why a coffee house?

tryourcoffeedelicious.gifIt was a natural selection. Not because of any personal affinity for coffee… mind you, I am actually allergic to it. Can’t touch the stuff (internally). Due to the high acid content, I’m not able to drink it. I may not be a connoisseur, but, I do know there is something that tempts people and draws them in for another cup. Is it the rich, dark, intense aroma?ar122349710330979

If there is something that draws you in for another cup of java, then we can assume there is something that draws and pulls us to the place in which the cup is sold. So, what is it? What draws you to a coffee house? Is it the atmosphere… the need for comfortable autonomy… perhaps some free wi-fi? Is it the selection of hot drinks and good food? Is it because of the happenings… the local people… the weathered sofas… the buzz? Think about the places you frequent and ask yourself what is it about them that keeps you coming back.

53556As you have probably realized, I have a passion for building community… the more you read, the more you’ll see it. I have a passion to bring people together through food, to connect people, to offer true authentic hospitality… to serve. And, what better way than through the comforts of hot and cold drinks and good food.

What I want to do, is to create a community hub. The nucleus of a neighborhood. A place where people come together (where neighbors can know their neighbors). A place that is safe, relaxed, unassuming… where people can come as tazathey are (warts and all). No matter what they look like, how much money they make, or what their background is. A coffee house or cafe is one of the most natural place for this to happen. (And… this won’t be just any run of the mill establishment on the corner serving up a cup O’Joe.)

082420062152248687Think about it, where is the place in your home that creates this kind of center, or social energy… where do people gather? Most likely…  it’s near the kitchen (where food and drinks are). It doesn’t matter what the size… the kitchen can be tiny or spacious. But, it is the center of the action in our homes which attracts us most… and, draws us in. People gather near food. It’s wired into us.

(That’s why so many homes have bar height counters or islands with built in seating areas. To incorporate this social hub into the home).