Cup of Joe: Where the coffee is strong and so are the women

Jerry Naunheim Jr.

St. Joseph's Academy's describes its new coffee bar as a place where "the coffee is strong and so are the women."

Cup of Joe opened Aug. 26 with a ribbon cutting, complete with oversized scissors, balloons, and a live stream of the event. The volume of student cheers rose with the rolling concession window, revealing a full coffee bar and a small gathering space. The coffee bar is open to students and visitors before and after school, and has Kaldi's Coffee products, including hot and cold brews, espresso, lattes, smoothies and frappes.

Profits will go toward the archdiocesan LifeLine Coalition, a group of social service agencies and pro-life caregivers that provide financial and emotional support to thousands of women who face the challenges of a crisis pregnancy. Other future beneficiaries will include student scholarships and the school's Respect Life Club.

Student volunteers run the business, including sales and staffing, creating the menu and managing inventory and marketing. They are partnering with the Missouri Future Business Leaders of America, a club started at the school this year, to learn practical business lessons. Some lessons will be incorporated into school coursework.

"You students have said you're on your way to being entrepreneurs and business people, and you want the opportunities not later — but now," St. Joseph's Academy president Regina Mooney said at the ribbon cutting. "We're happy to work with you to make those happen now. I would like to say we're giving them to you now — but guess what? You are giving them to yourselves."

To learn the business of running a coffee shop, students partnered with St. Louis-based Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Co. Caitlin Conrad, a Kaldi's sales representative and a 2010 St. Joseph's Academy alum, invited students to the company's roasterie for barista training, where they learned how to brew coffee, make espresso and learn customer service skills.

"They got to see the beans being roasted from the beginning, learning about the whole process," she said. "I was excited to do the training here as an alum. I started at Kaldi's when I was in high school here."

Students raised $45,000 from their annual auction raffle to help finance the coffee bar. Several donors also contributed to the effort to renovate an old kitchen on campus, and to purchase coffee equipment and products.

Seniors Amal Hamed and Malia Fisher are among the 11 student volunteer managers who will earn service hours for their work. Hamed and Fisher, who want to pursue business in college, said the practical experience they will gain is invaluable.

Deciding on a coffee bar was a no-brainer, they added. "At St. Joe, everyone's got a cup of coffee in their hands," Fisher excitedly said over the roar of students trying out coffee samples. "It's gotten us through those late nights of studying."

As they give their beans for coffee beans, students will be helping the "dear neighbor" — the famous motto of the sponsoring Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet — through pro-life issues. "We've always been about being right in relationship with our neighbors, and that means all ages, at every stage of life," said Respect Life Club moderator Sarah Boul. The club has been expanding beyond abortion, including topics such as the death penalty and euthanasia. Last year, students held a mental health awareness week on campus. "We want to cover the spectrum of what it means to be pro-life," Boul said. 

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