The word “ethic” is derived from the Greek word “ethos”, a term used to sum up the guiding ideals that describe a group or an ideology. The Coffee Ethic in Springfield, Missouri, takes the definition to heart, taking actions in their cafe that will trickle down to the soil growing the coffee they roast in their shop.
“In our way, it was our theory of doing business, how we wanted to do coffee,” owner Tom Billionis says. “We wanted to make sure that what we were putting in the cup was high quality, and we’re always pursuing that.”
Coffee was always a hobby for Billionis, and he wasn’t set on making it a career. When his business partner Jim Hamilton quizzed him—a former employee—about his next career move, “opening a coffee shop” was the off-the-cuff response. Billionis says he wasn’t very serious about the idea, even though he had been doing a lot of research on the topic. In the spring of 2007, Hamilton called and suggested opening a shop in Springfield, Missouri; the city was close to his children and grandkids. The southwest Missouri city is also close to Billionis’ hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas. At the time, Hamilton and Billionis were living in Montana and Arizona, respectively. Within eight months, The Coffee Ethic opened its doors.
There’s a lot of history outside The Coffee Ethic. Route 66 passes nearby. The first shootout in the Wild West took place across the street in the town square, Park Central Square, between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt on July 21, 1865, over gambling debts and a stolen watch. There’s also history on the inside. The cafe and roaster is located in a former women’s dress store and concert venue. The space is inviting with a warm glow from the natural sunlight.
“There are really neat old buildings [in downtown Springfield],” Billionis says. “There’s a lot of history down here. We [wanted] to live in a more urban environment, be a part of revitalizing down here and getting the heart beating back downtown.”
Since the shop opened, Billionis has made an effort to make The Coffee Ethic an environmentally sustainable business. The takeaway cups, pastry bags, and coffee bags are biodegradable. Naturally harvested and reclaimed wood make up the cafe’s bar decoration, tables, chairs, and benches. The shop chooses to buy wind energy from its local electrical company. A new bike rack encourages customers to cycle into the shop. The patio has edible vegetation growing with a gorgeous rain catcher sculpture nearby for watering. Pucks of espresso are discarded separately and reused for compost at a local urban farm. Billionis hauls the shop’s recycling in his truck several times a month.
“Some of the things we’ve been doing since the day we opened, so I almost forget about them,” he says. “They’re not sustainability initiatives. They’re just business practices for us. We wanted to make that a priority from the beginning because all the way back, coffee is a crop. If the environment’s in bad shape, crops are going to be in bad shape. It boils down to that.”
A newer wrinkle to The Coffee Ethic happened last year when the shop began roasting on a 1991 Probat L12. There are plans to make the shop’s roasting carbon neutral. Up until that point, the shop sourced their beans from Topeka, Kansas’ PT’s Coffee. Billionis called the relationship “great,” but felt the time to roast in-house was right.
The bar holds a three-group Nuova Simonelli Aurelia with a pair of Mazzer grinders. Brewed house coffee is served via FETCO, while single-origin coffees are brewed with a two-brew-head Curtis Gold Cup, which replaced a Clover brewer. “We can get two cups of coffee going at the same time while not tying up a barista,” Billionis says.
Cold brew flows from a nitro tap, and the shop also has a liquor license. There’s a strong selection of Missouri beer including Springfield’s own Mother’s Brewing, St. Louis’ Perennial Artisan Ales, and Kansas City’s Boulevard. Throw in the wine and spirits, including Powers for Irish coffees, and the cafe doubles as a very relaxed bar.
On the immediate horizon, The Coffee Ethic will be involved in a new venture for downtown. When Cherry Picker Package + Fare opens early this fall in an old 500-square-foot gas station, Springfield permanent and transient residents will get to have coffee, lunch, beer, wine, or other goods at the ready. It’s just another piece in pushing Springfield forward, something Billinois and The Coffee Ethic are humbly excited about doing.
“Coffee really set in motion a lot of stuff,” Billionis says. “We’ve got a couple of distilleries that have opened up, cocktail bars now, which are coming, which was kind of the last beverage piece that we were really missing around here. Then fine dining and some really experimental restaurants and things like that that we haven’t had a ton of. We have good wholesome Midwestern food, but not as far as people pushing the envelope food-wise. That’s kind of the next phase. I like to think we’re a cog in that big machine.”
Evan C. Jones is a Sprudge.com contributor based in St. Louis. Read more Evan C. Jones on Sprudge.