The Roosevelt Coffeehouse in Columbus, Ohio was the result of one man’s hunch. Back in 2012, the cafe’s founder Kenny Sipes “got a sense that [he] was supposed to leave his job without a plan.” He did just that: Sipes resigned from his previous gig as a youth and college director at a church out in Pataskala, Ohio, with not much on the horizon in terms of prospects.
Sipes then spent some time as a youth pastor, but on a chance trip to Nashville he caught the coffee bug. “Everything was so cool,” Sipes tells me. “Barista Parlor, Crema, Frothy Monkey, Fido—just all incredible shops. I just started to be inspired by what that could look like if we did something like that here.”
His background in mission and fundraising work dovetailed with his newfound passion for coffee, and a plan started to coalesce. The Roosevelt Coffeehouse began with a simple, yet ambitious, goal: through the opportunity of coffee, Sipes wanted this shop to meet the needs of humanity. Now that the shop is firmly established, half of the baristas’ tip jar and 100 percent of profits go to the causes The Roosevelt supports, including Gracehaven, a rehabilitation organization for sexually exploited children; Exile International, an NGO providing trauma care and counseling to child victims of conflicts in Central Africa; Blood:Water Mission, an equipping agency working in Africa to address clean water access and HIV/AIDS issues; and The Salvation Army, one of the world’s oldest and best established international charities, with local chapters in 127 different countries.
Since the shop’s opening in early April of 2015, they’ve donated just shy of $10,000 towards these and other organizations. A full list of the charitable causes supported by The Roosevelt Coffeehouse can be found here.
The non-profit coffee shop isn’t entirely a new concept, and several have been featured elsewhere in these pages, from Seattle to London to Melbourne, Australia. For his part, Sipes gives a nod to The Well, another Nashville coffee company that operates using a similar business model. Many such coffee bars in the United States tend to be planted by churches and used as outreach, with coffee as something of an afterthought. But Sipes knew that the good intent behind his new cafe would never gain steam without accommodating a younger generation—one that would demand a quality product to go with a noble purpose.
That’s when we get to the coffee. Currently, the Roosevelt brews coffee from Columbus, Ohio’s popular microroaster One Line Coffee, as well as national specialty coffee pioneers Stumptown. Alongside a batch-brewed house coffee offering, four additional coffees are rotated for manual brewing, which can be offered via V60, Chemex or French press, all ground via a Mahlkönig EK 43. Stumptown’s Hair Bender anchors the shop’s espresso program, served by Modbar espresso & steaming units and a Mazzer Kony grinder. This kind of product listing should sound like a dog whistle for coffee nerds—it’s a quality lineup of equipment and coffees, something that speaks to the product served at this message-driven coffee bar.
It’s a beautiful space, too, illuminated like a warehouse with a demolished outer wall. The street-facing side is entirely windows, which combined with the high ceilings and clean, white surroundings creates an airy and bright feel. Their choice of an undercounter espresso machine helps out that vibe by reducing counter space. It’s a popular place to study, with tons of tables—most of which are made with repurposed bowling alley wood—covering the shop’s front and boardroom-like private space in the back.
Sipes realizes the quality of the coffee is critical to the shop’s success, and that the coffee experience has to resonate with a customer just as well as the charitable work. This is a tricky line to walk—to give back to the world while serving a delicious product in the first place. A lot of places can do one part of that equation really well; it takes something special to pull off both. “If we’re going to make a difference, we have to have a great product,” Sipes tells me. “I know that sounds kind of generic, but I mean it.” And it shows.
Matt Lovett is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio. Read more Matt Lovett on Sprudge.