July 17, 2020
The State of Coffee in Indianapolis
I wrote this original article in January, and since then everything has changed. So I started from scratch because I want you to know where we are and how we're doing.
In January of this year, I wrote a long article called ‘The State of Indianapolis Coffee.’ It followed my usual pomp & circumstance of praising all of the awesome things going on in Indy’s coffee scene. You know I’m the biggest cheerleader for this community. Even though I don’t even work in coffee (and never have), I really want everyone to love local coffee as much as I do. And regardless of what happens, you can’t take my pompoms away from me.
I don’t need to get into this too much, do I? Between a global pandemic and a global awakening to social injustices, these last few months have been extremely challenging to navigate for all small business owners. Watching them all adapt in real-time has been interesting. It’s been inspiring. It’s been heart-breaking. It’s been nerve-wracking. It’s been a lot.
The Good, The Bad, and The In-Between: How Coffee Shops Are Responding
Small businesses — especially coffee shops — are living, breathing entities. They require energy; they require attention; they require money (in and out); they require safety; they require love. They are ecosystems that take work, so when the balance of the literal world goes out of whack, it takes more effort than we’ll ever know to keep those pieces aligned.
With ever-in-flux guidelines coming from local and state officials, shop owners have been given moderate safety rules, but that’s it. So when they got the go-ahead to open back up, it was basically the Wild, Wild West. While some shops haven’t opened back up yet, we’ve seen some close for good, others fight tooth and nail to get half of their regular sales, several NEW shops open… and others are breaking sales records?
I’ve gathered an all-encompassing look into the different efforts some Indianapolis coffee shops are using to manage and stay open. Then, I’ve got some highlights to share of some shops and roasters who are going above and beyond the call of duty to keep us caffeinated. And of course, if you’re looking to see who is still open, I’ve got that list for you, too.
With Quills Coffee downtown leading the charge, most coffee shops who were wanting to re-open (or needing to re-open) quickly adapted to this new normal by implementing curb-side pickup, either from online ordering or phone orders. These options are far from ideal, but they made it happen. It was also awesome to see folks in the community, especially Alec Mandla from Tinker Coffee, step up to help make this change seamless for a number of shops. This is arguably the safest option for shops re-opening, so it was awesome to watch this all come to life.
Some shops really got the hang of this while others faced more logistical restraints: from their locations, their POS systems, or the lack of staff. And these shops are still trying to figure it out.
Not all coffee shops have the luxury (though I doubt they’d call it a luxury) of having traditional drive-thru windows. A few cafes — like Rose & Lois, Geist Coffee Company, Della Leva, and Schoolhouse 7 Cafe — quickly adapted their already-fairly-contactless drive-thru windows to meet the safety standards from the government.
You know what’s great about local coffee shops? They’re local! (And about a million other things, but…)
Another creative way shops kept the orders coming in, coffee going out, and their employees at work was offering free local delivery. We’re not talking individual orders and lattes, no no no. Some cafes & roasters started packaging popular cold drinks in bottles and bulk containers and offered free local delivery within a certain radius.
Most roasters in the city also beefed up their efforts by offering free delivery of their coffee beans in one way or another.
Selfishly, one of my favorite tactics presented by shops and roasters has been pop-up events. Most notably, Tinker Coffee, Tinker Gemini, and Provider have hosted a number of pre-order-and-pickup-later food pop-ups in tandem with awesome local food vendors like Indy Dough, 4 Birds Bakery, Bubbatown Burritos, Knuckle Puck, and Amelia’s Bread. Not to mention, most (if not all) of these events have benefited local non-profit organizations in one way or another. You just genuinely can not beat that.
As I mentioned, some cafes faced logistic hurdles they couldn’t quite get over, so they are relying on strict sanitary practices and carry-out only orders.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to rely only on these orders, especially when we’re so accustomed to sitting down and enjoying coffee in these shops.
Even more than that, I can’t imagine how hard it is to manage a coffee shop while also keeping sanitation at unprecedented levels. I just… I don’t envy them, but I am incredibly thankful.
We’ve all been relying on the power of social media to get messages out about ever-changing hours, safety guidelines, and promotions, and obviously to learn from each other.
In our List of Shops Who Are Still Open, I’ve linked everyone to their Instagram accounts, so make sure you follow along with all of them. You know, just to be sure.
Opening Back Up
As the government has slowly let spaces open back up with limited indoor & outdoor seating, we’ve seen diverse responses to the guidelines. Some shops aren’t taking any chances with indoor seating while others are opening at max-allowed capacities. I am definitely not comfortable hanging out inside a cafe yet, nor do I think I will be for a while. And trust me, I want that more than anything. BUT, the health and safety of my community and my own personal health are too important to risk it.
Closed for Good
With all economically uncertain times, there are those business who can’t see it through for any number of reasons. I’ve been asked why some shops have closed up permanently, but those stories are not mine to tell. Regardless, there’s a hole in our community that Rabble Coffee once filled. And we’re still crossing our fingers that someone is able to take over Josie’s legacy and continue the awesome community-driven work she started.
We’ve also lost the downtown Hubbard & Cravens and Kiel Coffee Roasters, and several other establishments are still undecided.
New Coffee Shops (plural)
Rachel Priddy is the owner of Rose & Lois, a new coffee shop in Carmel. Rachel has been working her butt off for nearly two years to get her cafe ready, and the day she planned on opening full-time was the literal day the governor shut the state down. Luckily, Rose & Lois has a traditional drive-thru window, so they’ve been able to serve drinks non-stop throughout this whole thing.
Hugo Cano is the man with the plan behind Amberson Coffee & Grocer which just opened up in an old service station in Fletcher Place at the corner of College & Fletcher. The space is super cool and features artisan groceries & local produce atop of their awesome coffee program.
Oh! And remember The Wine Shop Irvington? Now they are Percolate, a beautiful new cafe run by Bee Coffee Roasters that also just so happens to sell lots of wine. Could we ask for more?
So Why Go Through the Trouble?
I’m assuming you didn’t come here for a lecture on The Plight of the Small Business, but I will remind you that a lot of this places simply don’t have the option to not open back up, despite all of the health and safety risks. These small businesses are the sole lifelines for so many of the owners and employees. Without sales coming in, the ramifications are far beyond shops shutting down permanently.
I have been hesitant to ask different shop owners about how hard they’ve had to fight to get government-issued loans to stay afloat, but several have mentioned to me in conversations that without these loans, their doors would have been permanently shut from the very beginning.
Granted, this financial boost was insignificant for most in the long run. It was enough to pay their furloughed staff or pay their vendors. But it was far from a sustainable solution.
Every shop has its own reasons for choosing to open up and react in ways they are able to. Sure, it would be great if they could all keep the doors safely closed until this pandemic is under control… but again, it’s just really not in the cards.
So this is all extremely difficult to navigate as-is, but what happens when a barista or roaster actually tests positive for COVID-19? I guess we’ll have to keep you updated. On Thursday, July 16, the first coffee shop had to close because an employee tested positive. It wasn’t a barista or anyone who came in contact with the coffee program, but it was someone who works in the same space. The shop has closed until further notice and while all employees get tested and the space is professionally sanitized. They don’t have a plan yet to re-open, because how could they? We’ll just have to wait and see and hope for the best.
Black Lives Matter
I would be remiss to not talk about the rise of activism against racial and social injustices in the last few months sparked by racially charged events (you know, Black people being killed because they’re Black, for instance).
It is difficult, to say the least, for any human to navigate conversations about racial and social injustices in our society, especially when they are provoked by horrific events. And navigating these movements as a business is no easier.
We’ve seen some shops rise the the occasion — doing what they can & where they can to help out through starting conversations, reflecting on internal policies, raising money for different organizations, sharing loads of educational resources, and so on. And thankfully, to my knowledge, no local shops were damaged in any protests.
We’ve seen some coffee folks say things out of turn, educate themselves, admit their mistakes, and move forward as better people.
And of course, as always, we’ve seen very few do the wrong things by either staying silent, literally refusing out loud to acknowledge these events, or even straight up spew racist and hateful comments online. (Please don’t get me started… the receipts are all online.)
As I have personally started before, this is a COMMUNITY. To keep your community strong, you have to do more than stand by the marginalized and the suffering. You have to stand up for them and fight for them. And if you can’t do that — or worse, say that you don’t see them — there is no room for you at this table. We need all the space we can get for all the colors and creeds of people who we love and who love us. That’s just how it’s going to be.
Listen, it’s no secret that the coffee community can do better, especially when there is little-to-no representation of people of color, immigrants, or the LGBTQ+ community working behind our coffee counters or roasting our coffee here in Indy. But we’ve stepped up in ways we haven’t before to start addressing these problems. We’re going to be better. We’re already better. We have to do better.
Speaking of, ‘community’ has been the shining beacon throughout all of this. Shocking, I know, for me to praise the coffee community, but really it has been so amazing to watch everyone band together and support each other from the very beginning.
The week Indianapolis shut down, I was added to a group message on Instagram with a bunch of local coffee shops and roasters. Someone started the group to offer help, see how others were handling safety guidelines, and to just connect. The conversation has tapered off as businesses have been getting busier, but I still pull it back up just to soak in the energy of the community banding together.
Obviously I’ve been focusing on the business-owner perspective of all of this, but the baristas we know and love are also a huge part of this conversation. In lieu of dragging this specific article out even longer, I’m going to be posting conversations with a handful of cafe workers over the coming weeks to give you their perspectives from their actual perspectives. Stay tuned…
Call to Action
Listen, there’s a literal global pandemic going on, and we are literally in a worse spot than we were in March when the state shut down. We do know a little bit more about this virus, but there’s still so much we don’t.
SO: Go out of your way to visit any local coffee shop when you have to get out of the house. Tip your baristas extra. Wear a dang mask. Check-in on your coffee friends. And be considerate of other people!
If you’re in coffee and your business is struggling, hit me up and I can connect you with the right folks – or at least tell you how other places are doing things. We’re all in this together.
Like I said, Quills Coffee was one of the first to start rocking the online ordering. They quickly integrated their POS system into their website giving us the ease of ordering from literally anywhere. And when you pulled up to the cafe, you could give them a call, they’d make your drinks fresh-to-order, and they’d bring them out to you.
Due to updated guidelines, we can go inside Quills now, but this was the ‘normal’ for a while.
Bee Coffee Roasters Partners Up
Bee Coffee Roasters was one of the firsts to offer free local delivery. In partnership with Centerpoint Brewing, they are able to offer bottles of their cold brew concentrate and freshly roasted beans for local delivery.
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Indie Coffee Roasters Delivers
Indie Coffee Roasters in Carmel has fostered a really unique micro-community of ICR fanatics. (Am I one of them? MAYBE.) So when Indie started offering their cold brew and nitro cold brew for local delivery in fancy new bottles, my Instagram lit up with photos of cute little bags and bottles on people’s doorsteps.
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Provider’s Drive-Thru-Less Drive-Thru & Garden
Because of Provider’s location, they were able to create a pretty seamless drive-thru situation in their parking lot where cars & bikes are being sent through a one-way, re-configured parking lot. Cars & bikes enter off one street and are ushered by staff through several checkpoints to a range of numbered parking spots where baristas make the orders from scratch and bring them out. They do a much better job explaining this on social media, which they work into every single post. I think this is why their drive-thru process has seemed so successful to me. They used their already-powerful social media presence to really over communicate the plan. I’ve visited Provider a few times, and it has been a great experience every time.
Another fun fact about the team behind Provider: to keep some employees from being furloughed (and a million other reasons), they used this time to launch Small Victories, a vegetable patch & garden to support all (6?!) of the Coat Check establishments.
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Noble Coffee & Tea’s Paddle
Noble Coffee & Tea on the square in Noblesville was another cafe to quickly adapt to the online & curb-side model with several designated parking spots out front. To help practice social distancing to the max, they even took an old boating paddle and converted it into a super-long drink carrier to help them deliver curbside drinks from a distance.
Tinker Coffee Pops Up
As I mentioned, Tinker Coffee & Tinker Gemini have been holding pop-up food events on nearly every Friday for the last few months. Usually they post pre-orders in the beginning of the week that sell out within minutes. Then on Friday, they have a sweet drive-thru system in their roastery parking lot where the food and drinks are made to order and delivered to your car. Generally, a portion (but most often all) of their proceeds have been going to local organizations that are helping local companies get through the pandemic or fight systemic injustices within our state.