A new breed of coffeehouse is on the rise, a trend that’s been a long time in coming. Catholic coffeehouses are springing up around the country—places that offer coffee, food, a wholesome atmosphere, community, and Catholicism. Many of the coffeehouses present the Faith in a unique way.
“There are two takes on the Catholic coffeehouse,” said Andrew Whaley, founder of Calix Coffee, a coffeehouse consulting firm. “The one is that the coffeehouse wants to be a really super-Catholic place that’s an extension of the Catholic bubble. We all feel comfortable going to it. It’s like a Starbucks that’s safe for the kids.”
Whaley has been in the coffee business for more than 20 years. About three years ago, he found his niche as a consultant. At about the same time, he took on the management of Tolle Lege (Take Up and Read) Coffee Bar, owned by the Augustine Institute in Greenwood Village, Colorado.
The second take, Whaley explained, comes from a completely different angle. “There’s another type of coffeehouse that is focused on creating a space—both literally and metaphorically—where an encounter can happen. Over time, organically, in the context of daily lives someone can experience Christ present in a community of persons.”
This type of community, Whaley said, can happen within a blatantly Catholic establishment, but it tends to attract only those who are seeking and are already favorable toward Catholicism. Those who are adverse to the Faith will likely be turned off. There’s room for both kinds of Catholic coffeehouses.
“You’ll catch the people who are seeking,” he said. “But that’s just one step away from being a disciple. If you’re talking about the kid with the sleeve tattoos and the red dreadlocks who’s an art major and plans to start his own film company and influence the culture when he graduates, he’s not going to come.”
Whaley works with both kinds of coffeehouses, because he sees both kinds playing a valuable role in evangelization.
“One is for the seeker and built so that Catholics will come there,” he said. “I also want to build coffeehouses where pagan seekers will feel comfortable so I can show them there’s more to life than matter and energy. People come to me because they want to open a Catholic coffeehouse, and I try to talk them into being Catholic and opening a coffeehouse.”
The Catholic coffeehouse trend is evident to Whaley by the large number of calls and emails he receives from people exploring the possibility of opening their own shop. However, it’s especially evident on his frequent travels.
“I can’t go anywhere without meeting someone who hears what I do and tells me they’ve been dreaming for years about having their own shop. People tell me that all the time,” he said.
According to Whaley, the most important aspect of the trend is that shop owners and those aspiring to open their own coffeehouses understand it’s primarily about forming community, and the best way to do that is by offering them a superior product served with a truly Catholic attitude.
“We can use hospitality to create community. Hospitality is where craft, humility, and wonder intersect between human persons,” he said.
People like to frequent Catholic coffeehouses because the hospitality there makes them feel as though someone really cares about them.
“It’s a unification of persons,” Whaley said. “When someone comes in and allows me to serve them and they’re able to see me and I’m talking to them, and they can see all the little steps I’m taking to make their drink for them, it’s like a miniscule corporal act of mercy. It’s like the culinary version of Mother Teresa.”
Goldsmith Coffee Bar
That’s exactly what Paul and Edie MacDonald discovered upon opening Goldsmith Coffee Bar in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, four years ago. The middle and high schools of their parish school at The Church of Notre Dame were consolidated, leaving one of the buildings vacant. Thoughts were batted around about opening a coffee shop there, but the wheels were put in motion when Paul MacDonald and his high school entrepreneurship class decided to make it a class project. Since then it’s gone citywide.
Although the shop is set up to be a school project, it’s difficult for the students to cover all the business hours because of other school activities, so the MacDonalds enlist the help of volunteers to staff the coffee shop when the students can’t. For insurance purposes, they operate it as a mom-and-pop business.
“It’s set up so that it’s memorable and comfortable and a safe place for the people to come, students especially, after events,” Paul MacDonald said. “We decorated it, put in a lot of time, added some Catholic stuff, and used Catholic names for the items on the menu.”
For example, Goldsmith serves sandwiches called the Purgatorial and the Inferno as well at the Cafeteria Catholic, which patrons make themselves. They also serve salads and a vast array of stylish desserts, made by Edie MacDonald, who is a family-trained chef.
“We kind of poke fun at ourselves,” MacDonald said. “We’ve got a coffee cup membership program in which every other cup is free here. If you’re a pastor of any sort, you get a cup for nothing. We’ve got a half-dozen pastors from other faiths who come in and enjoy the coffee shop and have a good time. It’s been a wonderful influence in the community. People help out and make things happen.”
The Goldsmith Coffee Bar is named for Fr. Charles F.X. Goldsmith, who came to the Chippewa area in the 1850s. Efforts toward his canonization have been underway at the diocesan level since 2006. Fr. Goldsmith founded 13 missions as well as the Chippewa Falls Catholic school system. According to MacDonald, Fr. Goldsmith also started seven parishes, two hospitals, and a health insurance program for the area’s loggers in addition to evangelizing the Native Americans in the Northern Wisconsin region. His memoirs are kept in the Notre Dame rectory.
Goldsmith Coffee Bar spreads the Catholic faith through its environment and the tongue-in-cheek titles of its menu items, but also by involving people from the community—both young and old—in its commerce and mission.
“They fall in love with getting together,” MacDonald said. “It’s a lot of work, but we joke around, and the next thing you know, we look across at Mass and there they are. It’s little things like that. The Lord sends us these people. We’re just one little cog in the wheel. There’s a ton of stuff that happens here that’s of the divine nature. We’re not doing anything special other than giving them a good time and a place to call home.”
St. James Coffee
St. James Coffee, in Rochester, Minnesota, is the brainchild of Father Matt Fasnacht, a priest of the Diocese of Winona. The coffeehouse, which opened in 2012, operates as a nonprofit and depends on volunteers to run it. It’s open to persons of all faiths—or no faith at all.
The coffeehouse has a twofold mission: the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Zach Rawson, chairman of the board of directors at St. James Coffee explains that they exist to evangelize. They do this through the environment and the joyful witness of the volunteers. The goal is to introduce people to the good, the true, and the beautiful.
In addition to regular service hours, St. James Coffee holds special events, such as art lessons, study groups, monthly speaker series, and its annual Brewhaha, a fundraiser that includes dinner, a speaker, and auction among other things.
Cultivate Coffee and Tap House
What’s next in the Catholic coffeehouse trend? Perhaps it’s an establishment like Cultivate Coffee and Tap House in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Cultivate is based on the shared dream of Ryan and Bekah Wallace and Billy Kangas.
“Cultivate started as a dream for businesses to be about more than profits,” explained Kangas. “We are a business that is focused on doing good in our community and world.”
Kangas has a passion for what his calls “missional living,” a passion the Wallaces shared. When they heard about Kangas and his coinciding vision, they contacted him. When the three met, they decided to work together to make their vision become reality.
“When I first started working in ministry in the early 2000s, I was looking for a way that I could connect with my neighbors in authentic and organic ways,” Kangas said. “The natural place was at the local coffeeshop. Cafes are often the hubs of communities.”
Cultivate’s main focus is addressing hunger. Profits are invested into Cultivate’s causes, which don’t discriminate based on any specific affiliation but rather are discerned based on Cultivate’s “cause areas.” The Wallaces and Kangas have become involved with local food gleaners and gardening initiatives, and they hope to be able to use the shop’s space to host sessions for education on issues related to hunger. They also plan to use a portion of profits to fund activist groups and projects.
The shop opened with a grant from a local church, Grace Ann Arbor. Part of the congregation’s mission is supporting businesses with gospel values. The Cultivate founders also have been given a $50,000 grant from the State of Michigan and have raised an additional $75,000 on their own with a crowd-funding campaign.
Calix founder Andrew Whaley summed up the potential for the Catholic coffeehouse trend: “The beauty of a Catholic coffeehouse is that it’s a moment,” he said. “It’s a place you can constantly have a moment where you can build relationships one cup at a time.”
Find a Catholic Coffeehouse near you
- St. James Coffee, Rochester, MN
- Ignatius Café, Los Angeles, CA
- The Refuge, Phoenix, AZ
- Tolle Lege Coffee Bar and Bookshop, Greenwood Village, CO
- Agia Sophia Coffee Shop, Colorado Springs, CO
- Trinity House Café, Leesburg, VA
- Calix Coffee, Greenwood Villiage, CO
- Goldsmith Coffee Bar, Chippewa Falls, WI
- Cultivate Coffee and Tap House, Ypsilanti, MI
Do you have a favorite Catholic coffeehouse you would like us to add to the list? Email us at email@example.com.