The buzz of coffee grinders drowns out the music of Jack Johnson, The Shins and old jazz artists every few minutes as the earthy smell of coffee drifts through the air at Fresh Grounds, a St. Paul coffee shop. Customers lounge on sofas, surfing the Internet on their laptops, or sit around small tables chatting with friends while sipping their drinks.
Although Fresh Grounds may seem like many others, this coffeehouse differs from the competition in its overriding social cause. Located at 1362 West Seventh Street, Fresh Grounds serves as a training program for residents of the Seventh Landing house upstairs.
Seventh Landing provides affordable housing to formerly homeless young adults, usually ages 18-24. The residents have histories of foster homes, group care, drug and alcohol abuse, or mental illness.
RS Eden is a non-profit company that owns Seventh Landing and four similar houses in the Twin Cities area. They are in the process of building another, but Seventh Landing is the only one with job training available. According to Dan Cain, president of RS Eden, the goal of Seventh Landing is to have the tenants live a sober lifestyle and eventually move on to self sufficiency.
“This is almost like a family owned business. Like with your kids, you might tolerate a little more than somebody else would,” Cain said.
At other market jobs, companies may fire someone for multiple mistakes. At Fresh Grounds, management works with employees to correct these mistakes and build skills they can take to future jobs. The barista position is seen as a transitional one, Cain said.
One Fresh Grounds employee and Seventh Landing resident, who did not want to be named, said that this is the first job that she has had in six years. Originally from Lakeville, she said she started doing drugs at 16, but not heavily until about 22. She said that she came to Seventh Landing because it offered her a sober environment to help her transition back into the community.
She explained how management tries to make the job fit her schedule and needs. For example, if she were to get a craving for a drug in the middle of a shift, they would allow her to leave midway through in order to attend a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
“My sobriety comes first to them,” she said.
Now 27, she plans to go back to school to get a degree in criminal justice.
Fresh Grounds provides an opportunity for employment for about one-third of the residents at Seventh Landing and residents of other RS Eden housing developments around the cities. For many this is either a first job, or the first one that has been successful. It also works with employees through any problems that may occur so that they will leave on good terms, Cain said.
“It’s just a coffee shop, but I get to take pride in what I do,” said Max Nesterak, an employee of about two months, who does not live at Seventh Landing.
He said that his favorite part of the job is to talk with people, which was apparent as he went around the shop helping a customer with a crossword and teasing a self-proclaimed sweet tooth after adding a sugar-free flavor shot to her drink.
Originally, the idea for the space was to create a catering business, but after meeting with the neighborhood, the demand for a local coffee shop changed their minds. The shop is community oriented, from the pictures on the wall by local artists, to the gatherings it holds in the building – such as an event in October where people come in and buy Christmas presents from local venders.
Now Fresh Grounds offers catering and in-house food as well as Starbucks coffee.
“They’re getting the same product and helping the community,” said John Richards, manager of Fresh Grounds.
When the coffee shop makes any changes, such as rearranging the furniture, employees and Seventh Landing residents get a say in what happens. They want people to feel comfortable and at home.
“We’re always conscious that this is their space,” Richards said.
The coffee shop has built up many regular customers, one of whom is Richard Mathison. He stops by about four times a week for the atmosphere and to help a good cause, he said.
“It’s nice to see someone who’s keeping it fresh,” Mathison said
Kristen Anderson is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.