Living the Year of Mercy: The Local Cup

Cassie Haw and her son, who are Near Northwest Neighborhood residents of South Bend, catch up with The Local Cup founder Michael Griffin, outside the cafe located at 1009 Portage Ave., South Bend.

Brewing coffee and Catholic social teaching

By Jennifer Miller

When Michael and Catherine Griffin married, they promised each other they would make a commitment to their family and serve their local community and church.  The shape of what that commitment would look like was unknown to them at the time, but they were open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

Michael, or “Griff,” serves as a theology professor of Catholic social teaching at Holy Cross College; Cathy works as a nurse for the Holy Cross Sisters. They are the parents of Benedict and Basil. In 2010, the couple was speaking and “wistfully dreaming” with friends John and Brooke, all four avid coffee drinkers, about how wonderful it would be to have a local coffee house in the Near Northwest Neighborhood of South Bend, where the lived. The area already had a strong, diverse community with an active neighbor association.

Four years later, they tried a mini-version of a “pop-up” coffee shop during the NNN event Arts Cafe. It was wildly successful and very overwhelming.

They applied and received a grant from the Holy Cross Sisters, set up a board of volunteers and claimed 501c3 status. In March 2015, the couples began the process of restoring an old business building that was worn and decayed into a friendly and welcoming space.

The choice of a location was a specific practice of Catholic social teaching, specifically regarding good stewardship and care for creation. Originally Minkler’s Hardware, the classic brick structure on the corner of Portage and California avenues had also been a barbershop, offices and most recently, used by the NNN community association.

Baristas at the Local Cup prepare drinks for their customers — the drinks that have been paid for by other customers who came before them.

The rehab project was blessed with student leaders from Holy Cross schools across the country, who happened to be in South Bend that summer visiting Holy Cross College. They began with a process of adding a “vintage, retro and artisan feel” to the café.  Using local recycled lumber for handcrafted walls, cleaning the elaborate, raised tin tiled ceiling and painting the aging walls, they brought new life to the century old space.

Clearly the Holy Spirit was present and encouraging. A year and half ago, The Local Cup opened, serving customers in the mornings on weekends. The place was often filled with customers, and it still is.

Griff hoped that the project would provide “development without gentrification;” a goal he feels is worth a lifetime of effort. He recognized the beauty and strength already present in the NNN, from the diversity and history in the area, and hoped that as parishioners of nearby Holy Cross Parish, and he and his family could share their love of God with the community.

With a humble and joy-filled spirit, the Griffins clearly live an active, faithful Catholic life. The Catholic social teachings of subsidiarity and solidarity are practiced at The Local Cup, but done so in action and not by outright preaching. Griff gladly shares his theology and faith when asked, but his desire to build the kingdom of God knows that sometimes the words follow the works.

One practical way the principles are implemented is through the unique business model of a sustainable, “pay it forward” system. A generous neighbor paid for the first coffee beans; every customer since then has the choice to accept the cup of coffee as gift or pay it forward for the next person. Essentially it is an economy of communion within in a community.

“Pope Benedict used the term “gift economy” but here we use the term “pay it forward,” Griff said. The preferential option for the poor and vulnerable and valuing the dignity of every human person are also CST principles present and brewing at The Local Cup.  All people are welcome and able to enjoy a cup of good coffee, regardless of economic means or other social markers.

The product itself is locally sourced. The beans are direct trade from a farmer in Honduras, sent to South Bend and roasted in town by Zen and Bendix Coffee. The café buys the roasted beans from them, grinds, brews and serves its own unique blend.

Catholic social teaching principles can also be observed when local teenagers are hired as baristas. More than a shift job, they are given both leadership skills and coffee brewing training. As a result, the employees feel valued and respected. They are paid fair wages and given shifts that don’t conflict with Sunday morning church services.  College students serve as weekend managers.

Relationships

One relationship grew out of direct service with The Local Cup. Cathy became acquainted with Mr. Lu when the café was still just a dream. He was a researcher at the University of Notre Dame and lived alone, right around the corner. Lu was about to retire, and asked if they could use any volunteers. Cathy knew how often, in retirement, it can be difficult to finds one’s new place and purpose, so she welcomed him.

Lu quickly found a home though at The Local Cup. Quietly refilling people’s coffee or just collecting and cleaning dishes, he brings a sense of care and compassion to the busy café. He even drew a graphite and paper detailed drawing of a Chinese temple, which hangs framed along with other striking local art on the walls.

Makaila Rangers, a barista at The Local Cup and NNN neighbor, finds that the business’ CST approach makes all the difference.

“We live in this community, work with each other and we hang out, text and have dinner together. We are actually good friends and are really close. It’s not like we just work at the same place,” she said.

 

Posted on August 31, 2016, to: