One year ago, the Brightwood Park neighborhood, a predominantly residential area in northwest Washington, D.C. just north of Howard University, welcomed a not-so-ordinary coffee shop called Culture Coffee.
It’s a place where local vendors serve up much of the daily menu, such as Quentina Hampton’s breakfast quiches and 81-year-old Christien Thomas’s lemon pound cake.
Step into Culture Coffee and, depending on the day or time, you may find yourself in the midst of an open-mic poetry reading, a neighborhood book club meeting, a birthday party or just a local community gathering. Lining the walls are the works of local artists for sale that you won’t find at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts.
“We have a space for pretty much anything you like,” said Saundrell Stevens, one of the café’s co-owners. “It’s not your typical coffee house.”
Veronica Cooper, the other owner, agreed.
“We are named Culture Coffee because we cater to different age, education and ethnic groups,” Cooper said. “It is really a big melting pot.”
That is exactly what Cooper and Stevens had in mind for their coffee shop when they came up with the idea three and a half years ago.
Stevens was frustrated about the lack of coffee shops in the neighborhood. She wanted to be able to enjoy a cup of coffee without driving miles away from home to get it. Cooper felt like coffee was speaking to her.
“That Sunday of President Obama’s first inauguration, my girlfriend headed that ball,” Cooper said. “She asked me to help her put 1,000 bags of coffee in the gift bags. Every day, a coffee situation was coming up just like that.”
Stevens said they both wanted something a little different from the typical coffee bar.
“I wanted a nice coffee bar to go to that wasn’t so traditional,” she said. “I wanted something where people could go and sit down and get comfortable.”
So far, the community has responded well.
“ is far superior to Starbucks,” said Lisa Tucker, a real estate agent and frequent customer. “The local aspect and the coffee are better.”
Danielle Parsons, a public health specialist, is also a fan.
“Going to Culture Coffee is less about what I’m getting to drink and more about the environment, and who I might see there and who I might chat with,” said Parsons, 31.
Cooper, a seamstress, and Stevens, a full-time government employee, took three and a half years to properly prepare for launching Culture Coffee. First, they saved money from their income. Next, they took out a Small Business Association loan worth $100,000. They put together a business plan and submitted it to a bank for approval.
“After that, you find a location,” Stevens said. “We had the location maybe six months before we actually got approved for the loan. We just knew it was going to happen. You have to believe.”
Culture Coffee opened for business on Nov. 2, 2013.
“I was very nervous,” Stevens said. “I did not sleep at all, but I was very excited.”
They sell coffee, tea, smoothies, milkshakes and wine, and sandwiches, pastries, salads, snacks and breakfast food are also on the menu. Not only do they boast an extensive menu, but all items are affordable.
“Certain things are cheaper than at Starbucks, and they taste better,” customer Nishon Brown said.
With their extensive and inexpensive menu and openness to the community, Culture Coffee is exactly what Cooper and Stevens envisioned. However, Cooper and Stevens said the business has not been profitable yet.
“Business is steadily growing, a nice, even, slow pace, nothing fast,” Cooper aid. “It is a slow, steady climb.”
Culture Coffee is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.