Stories from Christian Coffee Shops
There are a number of coffee shops with Christian ties—some overt, some not. Here are stories from the folks who worked in them.
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This week, I put out a call on Instagram asking folks what they wanted me to write about. One person said, “How Christianity affects accessibility and inclusiveness in shops,” which immediately caught my attention.
I hadn’t known much about the intersection between Christianity and coffee shops prior to putting out this call for responses, except that there are more coffee shops that are owned or backed by churches than you might think.
In 2019, I interviewed Sarah Hewett-Ball of Full Stop Station in Louisville, Kentucky for the Boss Barista podcast, and she mentioned that it was common for her customers to ask which church she was affiliated with; I know a number of prominent shops in the area do have religious ties.
But I’ve never worked in one of these shops, so I opened the question to others—and was overwhelmed by the number of responses I got. Below are just a selection of the stories that baristas shared about their time working in Christian coffee shops. These stories are shared with permission, and I hope they’re as illuminating to you as they were to me.
(NB: I’ve added some clarifications in brackets.)
I’m queer and xtian influences in coffee shops make several [folks] unsafe. I’m also Jewish so it’s extra uncomfortable. I have a list of places in KC [Kansas City] I know are safe and not xtian in nature.
About that Christianity in coffee shops question (speaking as a Canadian tho), here are some of my thoughts:
If a shop/shop’s owners are not LGBTQ+ affirming, there may be platitudes of “everyone is welcome” but without the action to follow through with that. In the evangelical church, this looks like allowing LGBTQ+ people to attend and participate, but without any real meaningful opportunity to lead in the church.
In the coffee shop, I worry this would translate similarly where LGBTQ+ people may not be given opportunities to grow and progress in that company/shop.
There is a Christian coffee shop in town and from the moment you walk in you can just feel it. It’s like this oppressive feeling. There is soft music playing. The sayings on the walls are borderline biblical. And the workers have an unspoken motive to not only serve you coffee but to serve you Christ’s love! How do I know this? ’Cause I used to be one of them. This particular shop doesn’t exclusively hire Christians but all but one of two are Christians, so if you’re not you definitely feel like an outsider as a worker.
I used to work for a mid-sized chain that was owned by a religious family. I worked there for a few years and eventually was in a higher-level managerial type position. Even though I had been there for years, [and] was an integral part of their business, I could never break through to the “inner circle” because I didn’t go to church (even though it was never explicitly stated). Would regularly be excluded from communications threads, events, or if I was attending company events I would be treated like a leper, regularly shunned and outcast with anyone else who also didn’t go to church. At these events I would end up being the only “high-level” role that would be mingling with the baristas.
This all could easily be brushed off if it weren’t for the fact that I was close friends with one of the owner’s sons and regularly spent time at their estate.
After a while I realized that, although the company promoted from within (great practice), the opportunities were in favour of those who went to church (particularly the same church as the family). I was the only exception because of my relationship with the son.
Now, if you weren’t going to church, the family were never rude, or treated staff badly—they had great practices by the industry standards—but there was always this “culty” sort of feeling echoed amongst the company between those who are religious and those who are not, and non-religious folks were often feeling emotionally shunned or left out.
I recognized that I’m another cis white male in the coffee industry who was given privilege for that matter alone, topped with a friendship with a wealthy kid to have gotten my spot in that company, and I realized one day that the entire leadership was an exclusive white church club and it made me so uneasy that I left shortly after.
I think after speaking with many others from different companies the following is pretty apparent: Oftentimes with religious ownership, preference and privilege is given to those who share the same religious views, while others are emotionally shunned and left out of opportunities.
It’s such a huge thing in the South for sure!!!!
This is not uncommon here (in the Midwest), they vary between overt & unmentioned.
Ooh boy this is a huge problem here in the South. Like there are so many coffee shops that are “Christian-run” and abuse that. Most coffee shops that are Christian-based generally end up being a place where all you see are white CISHET men and women and have no actual inclusivity.
I work at a Christian-based shop and the amount of times I have to pretend in a day that I believe in God is exhausting. You don’t let people know around here that you are anything other than a Christian unless you want to be lectured or yelled at.
I literally have to pretend because I’m so tired of being retraumatized by someone trying to convert me. I have major trauma from Christianity (cult type shit).
Ugh, working in the Midwest it’s all Christian coffee shops.
I’m traveling in PA [Pennsylvania] and woulda never thought but it’s a def a huge thing here. Wild.
I’m a queer & trans person and the shop I work at has been mostly Christian at diff points! Sometimes it’s felt deeply alienating bcuz it felt deeply cishet normative and almost cliquey.
One of the first shops I managed was staffed by homeschooled Christian teens.
The majority of the staff were kids that were either in homeschooling or attended the same church. There’s a Peet’s in that location now, but at the time it was a pet project of an engineer and the adjoining space was like a home goods and decorations store that his wife ran. The engineer inevitably got back into his field and his wife took over running both shops.
I was basically still learning latte art and drink types at this point, so working with a bunch of teenagers, we all at least were excited to learn about pouring art. There were a couple other people my age working there as well and we were basically “the bad kids” because we were known to smoke weed or drink outside of work (lol). There were a lot of issues with homophobia and the youths taking umbrage with swearing.
The manager of the shop had actually been skimming the deposit drops for years (I worked there like 2008/9-2011), but she wore the “I’m a good Christian” mask and actively antagonized two women that weren’t religious and best friends.
Full disclosure. I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. It’s complicated but for most people it represents a conflict of interest. It’s complicated but it should suffice to say that I would NOT have worked for this shop had I known how weirdly evangelical it was. I hate this trend. I didn’t want to work for the weirdly evangelical shop and I didn’t know how weirdly evangelical they were until I was hired and the shop opened up.
Most of the staff weren’t Christian, but every time one of the original hires left they’d hire on some church kid who had no idea how to work in coffee but loved Jesus. Having to sit through the casual convos they’d have about being “called” to do things or being like, “Like yeah she goes to church but she doesn’t really behave like a Christian” made me want to put my head through a wall. That last quip was about our boss no less! While she was getting a divorce from the other owner! It was a total mess!!!
As for the inclusivity and accessibility, that probably comes down to basic staff or owner receptivity to making those changes. Trying to get these specific owners to do ungendered bathrooms or provide smaller paper menus for those who don’t see well was impossible. I don’t think everyone is like that though. These individuals were notoriously shitty people in our area, with long histories of being tyrannical while running other businesses. Other folks may be more willing to make changes or make a place inclusive and accessible in the first place.
Here in the midwest there are lots of coffee shops attached to a church or part of a ministry. It’s not always obvious that they are … they function as a coffee shop but they will have little cues around that it’s a Christian business.
For context — I’m an atheist who holds multiple other marginalized identities. Having worked in a few unofficially Christian shops, it’s just one more thing I’ve been ostracized because of in the workplace. I would also say it influences everything down to the design of the spaces, and absolutely in how conflict is resolved (or not resolved tbh). I can go on but I’ll stop here.
This is a topic I hope to explore in a future episode of the show. If you want to share your story, please reach out! Leave a comment below, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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