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Where can you hang out with friends late near downtown if you don’t want alcohol to be the focus?
Soon the answer will be the Old Louisville Coffee Co-op. The worker-owned shop is expected to open in early April and plans to stay open late (including around the clock on the weekends) and offer an inclusive space for everyone.
The passion project of a group of friends had been a recurring conversation, said co-op member Corey Robison. Then Adrian Silbernagel posted a wish on Facebook a few months ago; he’d been thinking about opening a coffee shop in Old Louisville.
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Robison jumped in.
“I jokingly commented on it, like ‘I would do that with you,’” she said. “And it just sparked from there.”
Within a few months, plans were underway and the team was formed with Silbernagel, Robison, Noa August, America Medious, and Kristina Diggs, all with backgrounds in the barista and coffee world.
Robison and August chatted with the Courier Journal last week about their plans, and the role of the shop’s location in Old Louisville, a neighborhood I call home.
It was important that the location for the shop, 316 W Ormsby Ave., be located in Old Louisville, where several of them live, Robison and August shared.
The group hopes that by opening a vibrant, gathering space in the neighborhood that other businesses and investors — as well as Louisvillians as a whole — will see the appeal of the Old Louisville community.
One of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, Old Louisville is beautiful, Robison said. “We have a soft spot in our hearts for it.”
Acknowledging that not everyone in Louisville shares that sentiment, “I think that people might just be scared because you see people experiencing homelessness,” she said, “or you hear … biases that people have.”
August hopes that the co-op coffee shop will invite people who wouldn’t typically come to the neighborhood to visit “so they can see for themselves how beautiful it is … maybe then begin the conversations of questioning personal biases,” August said.
In addition to being a gathering place and a welcoming place to grab a cup of coffee, the shop will also play some important roles in the neighborhood. While you can get coffee in Old Louisville, there’s not anywhere that focuses exclusively on it, said Robison. But this plan goes beyond serving cortados.
“We want to be able to create relationships with the people around us,” she said. And creating a welcoming gathering space is key to their mission.
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With a couple of their co-op members in recovery, “we don’t go to bars,” Robison said. And with this phase of the pandemic allowing people to get out and socialize more, “it’s really hard to find anywhere that’s open past 8 or 9 p.m. … [but] people will want to get out again, they want to socialize, they want to be around other people without being stuck at home.”
“Old Louisville needs more sober spaces,” August said, “and safe spaces for people to come to experience community and share community in a diverse space where there’s inclusion… for queer people and [people of color].”
August grew up in the West End and likes the idea of Old Louisville as the shop’s home because “I want to open more businesses in places where marginalized folks are so they can have access. And so that’s why it’s close to my heart.”
As the business grows, August and the others hope the co-op can expand to west Louisville.
For now, when the shop opens soon, guests will find a line-up of coffee, tea, and espresso drinks, interesting alcohol-free drinks like housemade sodas and affordably priced snacks, and light fare to eat. (The team had me at Cocoa and Toast, toast with butter, cinnamon and sugar, and a cup of hot cocoa for dunking).
Events on tap will include open mics, poetry readings, comedy nights, art nights, and drag brunches.
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Reflecting their commitment to diversity, as well as the diversity of the neighborhood, Old Louisville Coffee Co-op, a “diverse group of coffee nerds,” will ensure that at least half of the local artists and craftspeople they feature are BIPOC and at least half are queer or trans. In addition, at least 75% of their suppliers will be local, at least 75% of suppliers are POC and/or LGBTQ+ owned, and at least 60% of suppliers are Black-owned. So far that list includes Three Keys Coffee, Sis Got Tea, and Kizito Cookies.
Another guiding principle is their commitment to sustainability. Craigslist and Goodwill regulars, the team has sourced much of their equipment and merchandise secondhand, giving new life to various items.
Their business model and goals have drawn enthusiastic support from the community, with more than just words of encouragement.
“When we launched our Kickstarter … and we raised the money so quickly,” August said, easily surpassing their fundraising goal, “that affirmed in my heart that like, OK, [the community] need this and see the need for this just as much as we do.”
While any startup has its challenges, this team is confident in their approach and ability to navigate running a business as a group of friends, thanks to their ability to communicate well with one another, and thanks to the outpouring of support from the community in Old Louisville and beyond. (Other restaurants are also getting behind the new co-op, with V-Grits, for example, donating tables for the shop.)
“The support was amazing,” August said. “So any worry I had was washed at that point.”
To keep up with an opening timeline and location announcement, follow Old Louisville Coffee Co-op at oldlouisvillecoffeecoop.com.
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