Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Cuppa Change

Kenny Sipes wants your money. He wants your attention. He wants your company. He wants your support. Kenny Sipes wants it all. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. Kenny Sipes wants it his way. He wants to break the rules. He wants to change the game, and he wants you to join him for the ride. But for all his wanting, Kenny Sipes is not a selfish man. Kenny Sipes wants to fight hunger. He wants to fight human trafficking. He wants everyone around the world to have clean drinking water.

Kenny Sipes also wants to serve you coffee. Really, really delicious coffee.

Two contractors are installing metal framing above what will soon be a bar made from an old bowling alley. Kenny is pretty excited about that, and is eager to show off pictures of the sleek polished wood adorned with black arrows arranged in a neat V pattern that once guided bowlers to a perfect strike. Kenny is pretty excited about a lot of things. No flooring has been laid, and the light pouring in from the large windows reveals a haze of dust in the air—300 E Long St. is under construction. The contractors head off to get lunch and Kenny leads me into another room where a comically large conference table made out of, you guessed it, an old bowling alley is surrounded by plush office chairs. We sit down at the table and I ask him the question I’ve wanted to know since I arrived. What exactly are you doing here?

I could probably fill a book with everything Kenny and his team are doing and trying to do, but at it’s core, their mission is deceptively simple: help people around the world by serving coffee. It might sound funny, and you might be tempted to brush it off, but Kenny and his team are very serious. They are slowly but surely transforming 300 E Long St. into The Roosevelt Coffee House, equal parts high-end coffee shop and nonprofit organization, and they aren’t cutting any corners.

The pamphlet he hands me describes what that will look like as “a coffeehouse built to support organizations redeeming the injustices of hunger, unclean water, and human trafficking, locally and around the world.”

“Our goal was to partner with people who were doing long-term sustainability,” Kenny said about the organizations they hope to support, including Gracehaven, Blood:Water Mission, and Food for the Hungry, among others.

“You can find some organizations that are gonna drop a bag of food in Guatemala and fly away, and that’s their hero moment—we wanted to be involved with some organizations that were looking for the long-term.”

The aim of the Roosevelt is to funnel the money that the citizens of Columbus spend for their daily caffeine fix into something that can have a long-term impact in the lives of their fellow citizens, and the lives of people around the world. However, that’s easier said than done. With a growing number of coffee options throughout the city, you have to do a bit more than brew a few pots of Folgers.

“You can find some organizations that are gonna drop a bag of food in Guatemala and fly away, and that’s their hero moment—we wanted to be involved with some organizations that were looking for the long term.”

The Roosevelt plans to offer single-origin pour-overs, bottled cold brew, and multiple brewing options, including French press, V60, and Chemex. A state of the art Modbar espresso system– that conceals the bulky machinery below the counter is going to be installed, leaving just one espresso tap and one steam tap, so you can have a conversation with your barista instead of talking into the back of an hissing machine.

The Roosevelt is also sourcing beans from Portland’s roasting powerhouse Stumptown Coffee, as well as local outfit One Line, which is also consulting on the project.

“We’re learning our way in the coffee business. It’s nice to have somebody in town, so I can just call Dave Forman over at One Line and say, ‘Hey could you come pick this machine apart,’” Sipes admits as he hands me a mockup of the menu, which he hopes will include other local vendors such as Destination Donuts, Little Eater Salads, and Freedom a la Cart, another nonprofit operating in the realm of food and drinks.

Getting a perfect cup of coffee is a complicated operation from growing the beans, to harvesting, to roasting, to grinding, to brewing at the perfect temperature for the perfect amount of time, but it all adds up to a rather simple goal of giving you that pleasurable jump-start in the morning. By harnessing the power of that complicated process, Sipes and everyone at The Roosevelt Coffee House hope to create a vehicle to help people in a meaningful and sustainable way.

“I’ve had some people say, ‘Well why wouldn’t I give to that water organization instead of coming in here,’” Sipes said. “I try not to be snarky, but I just say, ‘Well do you?’”

The Roosevelt Coffee House will be located at 300 E Long St. They are hosting pop-up events and hope to be fully open this month. For more information, visit rooseveltcoffee.org.

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