What's your story? Brick Coffee in Norwood looks beyond the edge of the cup to foster community

Rent-free space from church aids its business plan
Brick Coffee in Norwood wants to know your story
Brick Coffee in Norwood wants to know your story
Posted at 7:22 AM, Dec 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-16 07:22:33-05

NORWOOD, Ohio -- The owners of Brick Coffee Co., which opened Dec. 10 in Norwood, want their business to be more than a place to grab a hot drink on your way to work.

They want to be a neighborhood hub, a place where people gather and talk and get to know each other.

“We believe in building community,” said Dan Smith, Brick Coffee CEO and shop manager. “When you come in here, we want to know who you are. We want to learn your story.”

The menu at Brick Coffee. Photo by Hillary Copsey | WCPO contributor

Smith and his partners -- Jenesis and Zach Clark, Nate Henderson and Dey'veon Carter -- met at Mount Vernon Nazarene University and are from towns around Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. Carter is finishing his degree now; the rest graduated April 30 and moved to Norwood on May 1.

The idea for Brick Coffee was born on campus, as Smith and the others talked about what it meant to build and be part of a community outside of the small liberal arts school. A coffee shop seemed like the right kind of business on which to build a mission of community-building.

“Coffee is a magnet,” said Smith, a self-described coffee nerd. “People come to grab a drink, talk, hang out.”

They had a business idea and began to raise money. They found a home after they met Rob Westerman, campus pastor at SNC Norwood, an offshoot of Springdale Nazarene Church. The church, which sits at the corner of Smith Road and Floral Avenue, already is home to two nonprofit organizations and a for-profit fitness center, Farrell Fit, as well as a variety of community classes and events.

“Most churches, they do church on Sunday and happen to do good in the community. What we've said here is, 'What if we built a community center that happened to do church on Sunday?' ” Westerman said.

For Brick Coffee, SNC Norwood spent nearly $100,000 to renovate a wing of the church, transforming the space from offices to the airy, 1,000-square-foot retail space. A window was turned into the front door, and concrete steps lead up from the sidewalk on Floral Avenue. Parking and a handicap-accessible entrance are behind the church.

The coffee shop, like Farrell Fit and the nonprofits, operates rent-free in the space. The church has no financial interest in the businesses.

Customers wait to order at Brick Coffee Co., a new shop in Norwood. Photo by Hillary Copsey | WCPO contributor

“We truly believe that our return on investment is getting to know our community,” Westerman said. “We didn't go looking for any of these things. These things just came to us. … I don't have a business plan or a contingency plan. That's the thing about faith. If we just get out of the way, things take care of themselves.”

On opening day, nearly 300 customers visited Brick Coffee. The shop serves a variety of hot drinks -- batch brew and pour-over coffees, espresso, tea and hot chocolate -- as well as Servatii pastries.

Smith said a few people have asked about the business's connection with SNC Norwood. Do they have to be church members? Will they get religious messages with their lattes? The answer to both questions is no. But mostly, people have been excited to see a new place to grab coffee in their neighborhood.

In its first week, Brick Coffee has welcomed Norwood residents, employees from local businesses and students from Xavier University wanting a quiet place to study for finals. On social media, customers are praising Brick Coffee's aesthetics -- the shop's white walls are hung with Cincinnati-themed banners and art and succulents sit on simple wood tables -- as well as the coffee.

“I liked it so much yesterday, I had to come back today,” said 30-year-old Nathan Cash on Tuesday, waiting for Smith to make him a mocha to go. Cash, a Norwood native, said the neighborhood has needed a place like Brick Coffee.

Each month, Brick Coffee donates half of its tips to a local charity. Photo by Hillary Copsey | WCPO contributor

With the exception of Smith, all the Brick Coffee partners have day jobs. But between those and working on the shop, they've been trying to find their place in Norwood, to make connections in Cincinnati. Half of all tips each month will be donated to a local charity -- Cincinnati Urban Promise is up first -- and they want to give back to their community personally and professionally.

“Community is more than where you live,” Jenesis Clark said. “It's how you interact with the people who live around you. … When I ask you how you're doing, I genuinely want to know -- beyond small talk.”