Photographed by Maggie Holmgren

The Ties that Grind

Can something as simple as a cup of coffee really save the life of a child?

Sisters Victoria Calderon Nunes and Virginia Nunes Gutierrez think so, and they’re ready to put their passions to the test this month with the opening of Bottoms Up Coffee Co-op in Franklinton.

“Bottoms Up Coffee Co-op’s mission is to use coffee and coworking as a means to social change by reducing infant mortality and increasing workforce development,” explained Calderon Nunes, whose career combination of marketing and community outreach are an ideal fit for the ambitious endeavor.

Coworking, for those new to the parlance, is a shared home base for freelancers and microbusinesses too small to need a dedicated office, but too big to get by operating off of the kitchen table any longer. They’re hives of collective energy where the creative class mingles, finding complementary expertise and opportunities to collaborate. Prices and amenities vary, but the principle is the same. If Apple were founded today, odds are it would have happened in a coworking community instead of a dingy garage.

But bottomless coffee and a place to plug in your laptop are also a means to an end. Columbus’s near west side isn’t called “The Bottoms” simply because the low-lying land was once ravaged by floodwaters a century ago. It’s an area of recent revitalization, as well as multigenerational poverty that a fresh coat of paint can’t easily cover up.

“We come from humble backgrounds. We don’t just know poverty—we know third-world poverty,” Nunes Gutierrez confessed. Her experience as a community health worker offers a first-hand perspective on social factors that contribute to systemic poverty. “We want to create tangible change, and Franklinton is a neighborhood that desperately needs it.”

The sisters came to Ohio by way of Philadelphia. Victoria worked remotely for a local marketing agency while living in Cleveland. Virginia started a niche tourism operation in the Canary Islands. But family ties eventually pulled both back to Columbus. Their family owns El Arepazo, the quaint Venezuelan grill tucked away on Pearl Alley and Gay Street, with locations now in German Village and a wine and tapas concept in Gahanna.

Bringing something both familiar and unexpected to Columbus may be in their DNA. But coupled with an accidental blend of hospitality and marketing experience, there is also a contagious optimism that small changes can make a significant impact.

Franklinton has among the highest rates of infant mortality in Central Ohio, and the sisters have aligned their mission with the City of Columbus’ nonprofit, CelebrateOne, of reducing those rates by 40 percent countywide in the next five years.

“Simple opportunities to connect people in need, like résumé review or mentoring opportunities, are also part of our workforce development purpose,” Calderon Nunes noted.

Memberships that fund the co-op’s causes come in several levels. In addition to the traditional desk and data options for entrepreneurs and socially minded startups, Bottoms Up offers a monthly coffee subscription for patrons who stop in often for a cup and want to make the next level of commitment. There is also a “Franklinton Legacy” membership for those who would like to make a more substantial recurring contribution. All memberships include access to networking events and community engagement opportunities.

“We built it for ourselves, but we also wanted to create a safe space to talk about solutions,” noted Nunes Gutierrez. The two also own a small marketing company specifically focused on serving nonprofits and social enterprises. Like many café consultants, having a place to meet clients was always a bit of a struggle.

Even the building itself is a metaphor for this spirit of renewal. It was built as a post office following the flood of 1913 that wiped out homes throughout the neighborhood. (Cowork tenants will notice  salvaged brass post office boxes, a hat tip to the building’s former self.) Beneath the ornate tin tile ceiling and skylights, are the brick walls and heavy beams of a fortress. Even the floors have been repaired with reclaimed lumber from Franklinton. It will take more than a hard rain to topple this red brick behemoth.

“We’d already decided on the name of the business, both as a reference to the act of drinking coffee and the community reinvestment,” Calderon Nunes explained. “But when we found a photo of the two homes that used to be on this spot literally ‘bottoms up,’ we knew it was perfect.”

The exterior wall of Bottoms Up features a mural inspired by that image and a visible reminder that better days are ahead for Franklinton.

“We did a lot of the work ourselves, tearing out sheet rock with sledgehammers. But when we were refinishing the floors, people from the community all came to help—friends, local residents, fire fighters from across the street, members of St. John’s Episcopal Church,” Nunes Gutierrez said. “Now they have a connection to the building, too. We’re not even open and it’s already a community coffeehouse.”


Bottoms Up is located at 1069 W Broad St. For more, visit bottomsupcoffee.com

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