Final Reflection: Good to the Last Drop

What I Did~

This past week was actually the most scattered week of this whole project.  I spent time at Dunn Bros. coffee house, officing there – to get the feel of just working in public without making the shop itself my subject of study.  I just wanted to be in the space like all the other customers.

I was able to craft a couple of more polished posts, (The Rules of Engagement and Building Communities) but the last post ended up being more of the scrapbook style.  I still had a lot of ideas and themes I wanted to explore, but I just ran out of time, so that post contains kernels or seeds of ideas for exploration later on.

How it Went~

It’s always really fun doing the research and making the connections and figuring out how to craft the posts. I can get lost in that process.  I felt rushed this week though, and a little stressed about having to decide which ideas to prioritize, knowing I wouldn’t have time to pursue all of them.

The post I regret not having a chance to pursue is one I wanted to write on self-construction.  I was hoping to get in a full-length interview with photographer/artist, Suzanne Szucs (written about extensively in Jill Walker Rettberg’s book – chapter 3). Suzanne was super enthusiastic about doing the interview, but I just never quite found the right connection to coffee shop culture or the right angle or something… it just, for whatever reason, never quite came together.

What’s “Brewing” ~

The final piece to this project is the final report – the culmination of the past five weeks.  I will have an opportunity to look back at what I’ve written and reflect on what I’ve learned.

The “Perks” of the Project~

I’ve enjoyed so many different aspects of this project.  It was really fun to write and research every day.  I appreciated the freedom this project allowed for me to pursue a topic I found interesting and to design the project how I wanted to.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot about online communities and the history of the web, and I also feel like I learned a lot about history and the importance of having public spaces.  An additional bonus was getting to learn more about the community I live in and the good work folks are doing to keep this community thriving.  I loved my city before, but researching the coffee shops has given me a much deeper appreciation for this city of Compassion.

Most of the time, in this “Perks” section, I write about the sort of serendipitous occurrences that happened over the previous week.  This week was no different.  My plan was to write a post about etiquette (both online and in the coffeehouse).  It was a crazy coincidence that a news story hit the press the night before I was beginning my post, detailing an unfortunate public display of bad behavior at one of our local coffee shops. While I was saddened to hear of this taking place, it could not have had better timing for my blog post!



Time’s Up… The Stuff I Didn’t Get To

So, today is supposed to be my final blog post about coffee shops, blogs and wikis before I compile the final reflection and of course, the very final report (both of which will be coming next week).  I simply ran out of time to pursue everything I wanted to.  Maybe I will continue the project on my own, or maybe I’ll pick up a new topic to keep the blog rolling.  I’m not sure.  For today, I decided to write a different sort of post.  This one contains kernels of ideas of things that were always simmering, but just never got fully cooked.  I just ran out of time.

This post is sort of peek at what my “Drafts” area looks like on the administrative side of the blog.  These were the half-baked ideas that I didn’t get to.

Dunn Bros. Coffee Shop~

I spent time at a couple of the local Dunn Bros. shops during this study as a customer using the space to work.  I tried to blend in and get the feel of what it means to work in public.  I didn’t really talk to any customers or the owners, but I chose Dunn Bros. for a couple of reasons.  1.  I ran out of locally owned shops and had to choose a chain and 2. I believe Dunn Bros. is one of  (if the THE) first coffee shops in Rochester.  They seem to maintain more of that community-centered feel than the more commercialized shops like Caribou or Starbucks.  I didn’t get time to develop my post about what it meant for me to be doing my work in public, but I will say, the maple glazed apple fritter holds a special place in my heart.

Quirky, Serendipitous Discoveries and Connections~

Coffee Shop Connections – While reading Seeing Ourselves Through Technology by Jill Walker Rettberg, I found a gem in the acknowledgements section!  Rettberg writes, “And thank you to everyone at The Wormhole Coffee for providing a writing environment where you can sip
an excellent coffee with a dragon pattern on top for hours surrounded by
other diligently typing people all in a time-travel themed environment.” When I saw this, I couldn’t believe it.  What an awesome connection to this project! One of my main sources actually did her work in a coffee shop.  Of course, I had to look the place up.
The Wormhole Coffee is in Chicago. It’s decorated with pop culture artifacts from throughout the ages (Ghost Buster movie posters, Elvis, Star Wars, etc…).

As I toured the local coffee shops here in Rochester, Mn, I was amazed by the diversity and the unique themes embodied by each.  According to Green,  coffee shops have always had their own distinct atmosphere.

Not only was it fun to find out that Rettberg did much of her work on this book at a coffee shop, but Rettberg’s book was published as an open source text – licensed through Creative Commons, available as a free download.  This concept of free public education was a dominant characteristic of the coffeehouses of the Enlightenment era.  I found several sources stating that scientists and philosophers would often give lectures at the local coffee shops.  Green  claims scientists would use the coffeehouse tables to dissect animals for the public’s education.  Like Isaac Newton dissecting a dolphin for the public audience at the coffee shop, Rettberg is splitting open the world of technology and its impacts on humans for the public to see.

People Connections- Another crazy connection that happened while reading Rettberg’s book, as that in the third chapter about selfies, Rettberg goes into detail about an artist, a photographer, whose work really influenced the way Rettberg was thinking about self-construction in a digital age.  The photographer’s name was Suzanne Szucs, and I work with Suzanne!  It was a crazy connection.  I tracked Suzanne down at work one day, and we had a brief conversation.  I planned to follow up and have a longer conversation and add it to this project, but I just ran out of time.  Suzanne and I talked about self-construction, going public and performance art.

Being Public vs Being in public

In Danah Boyd’s article, she talks about how teens are gravitating toward social media as a space where their voices can be heard.  She reports how young voices are often shut out from public spaces, leaving the youth feeling disenfranchised.  Social media has provided them a platform, but it has also come at a cost.  She points out that just because teens want to be in public doesn’t mean they want to be public.  What she’s getting at here is that the teens still want their privacy.  They don’t want to become public figures or have everything about their lives exposed just to have an opinion about a political or social issue.  Many students care about these topics and want their voices heard.

I’m wondering if the desire to be in public but not be public is partly what’s going on in the current coffeehouse culture where people go to do work publicly or be in public, but are a bit uncomfortable talking to the stranger next to them or starting a conversation with fellow customers.

Perhaps somehow this ability to control what goes public and what doesn’t via social media leaves people feeling overly insecure when it comes to public life in the physical realm.  For years people have lamented the decline of social and communication skills, blaming the loss on the amount of time the younger generations interact with screens rather than humans, but beyond the skill acquisition.  Maybe this is the case, or maybe Dannah Boyd has figured something different out when she says young people want to be in public and not be public.

Self-Construction, Self-Presentation, and Self-Reflection~

This section could have also gone under my “Quirky, Serendipitous Discoveries and Connections heading, but I decided to put it here.  In Jill Walker Rettberg’s book, Chapter 2, she talks about Filters. Rettberg defines filters as things that usually remove something unwanted.  She explains how apps like Instagram can do that, but they can also add things like color boosting to enhance an image. Then she uses this convenient analogy to COFFEE – “A coffee filter does something similar, though coffee filters are not mentioned in the OED’s list of usages for filter. Technically the coffee filter does stop the ground coffee beans from getting into the pot beneath, but the point  of a coffee filter is
to add flavour to water by slowing its flow through the coffee beans”(page 21). She continues this analogy on page 23, “Perhaps in this case, social media is not simply the kind of filter that removes impurities, but also shapes them and flavours people as the ground coffee beans flavour the water that passes through them. ”

Later on page 25 she writes,”The photo filter both aestheticises and perhaps…the filter anesthetises our everyday lives (1973, 20). At the same time filters show us images that look different than the world we are used to seeing.”  I wondered, could this be why people go to the coffeehouse? Could working in coffeehouses both aestheticize and anesthetize their everyday lives? Work seems more glamorous when done in an urban, artsy setting – and by seeing oneself in these artfully crafted spaces, one can create some separation from an either painful or seemingly dull everyday life.

To Wrap Up –

There were still more areas I would have liked to explore for this project, but time is up.  This is the final week.  It’s been an amazing time, and I’ve learned so much.  I can’t thank my local coffee shops enough for their gracious hospitality.  I can’t wait to visit all of them on a regular basis.  I hope any of you reading this blog take time to visit one of them if you’re ever in Rochester, Mn.


How Coffee shops and Blogs are working to build communities

Photo: Cafe Steam Store Front by Bonnie Robinson CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In McComb’s work on coffeehouses, she critiques contemporary coffeehouses, calling them “non-spaces”(41).  She compares them to the coffeehouses of the Enlightenment era which she describes as spaces of vibrant debates, discussions and the reciprocal sharing of ideas.  According to McComb, today’s coffeehouses, although some have good intentions, lack the communal characteristics.  When you enter the neighborhood coffee shop, you will most likely find a handful of individuals, working independently and possibly a table of two or a small gathering of friends meeting for a book club or to do some collaborative planning for an upcoming event.  What is rare is to find the boisterous, lively, energetic debates that filled the venues in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds.

After spending time in coffeeshops over the past month, I would have to only partially agree with McComb.  I think her characterization of coffee shops is more accurate applied to chain shops, such as a Starbucks or Caribou; however, a customer will have a different kind of experience at the independently owned shops.  The privately owned coffeeehouses I visited are motivated by the idea of contributing something of value to their communities, providing that central common place for neighbors and community members to engage and socialize.  They are intentional about fostering collaboration and community values, and the evidence is the plethora of handbills and flyers posted on the bulletin boards, advertising upcoming events they are hosting at their shops.

Photo: Events Posted at Fiddlehead Coffee Co. by Bonnie Robinson License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Cafe Steam has a heavy social media presence where they actively promote their live events. By utilizing social media, the coffee shop is able to spill over in to the online spaces of their customers lives, thereby maintaining that communal connection and fostering relationships both face-to-face as well as in the digital arena.

I was surprised at the wide variety of events and activities hosted by the coffee shops.  I expected to see open mic nights, poetry nights, live music, and an occasional special guest speaker, but what I found was much more diverse.  Some shops hosted a networking night, an art making night, book clubs, writing groups, photography, gardening, canning, jewelry making, meet your Muslim neighbor night.  These shops are clearly invested in bringing people of our community together.

Bloggers are also working to build communities in the online spaces.  The blogger’s equivalent to hosting events and putting up flyers is the blogroll, the comments, and the hyperlink. By displaying the blogroll on the side of their blog, they are introducing followers to each other.  By opening up a comment section, they are encouraging dialogue and discussion, by hyperlinking to other blogs, they are directly inviting the reader to participate in a broader conversation among the larger community. Here’s a post I wrote early in the semester as an attempt to foster community among my classmates.

Of course, community only happens for people who desire community.  One has to participate to benefit from the environment.  This is seen in the blogosphere as well. Jill Walker Rettberg writes about the expectations of those in the digital culture in her book, Seeing Ourselves Through Technology.  On page 13, she writes, “People who just watched and read and didn’t participate were given the derogatory term lurker, and it was clear that the expectation was active participation. Seeing yourself as a peer communicating with others was key to your identity online…” She goes on to point out that when a reader refused to actively participate, he/she tends to see the writer in terms of words or text and not as a fellow human being.

Rebecca Blood, blogging pioneer, writes this about the potential of  blogs:

“His readers will remember an incident from their own childhood when the blogger relates a memory. They might look more closely at the other riders on the train after the blogger describes his impressions of a fellow commuter. They will click back and forth between blogs and analyze each blogger’s point of view in a multi-blog conversation, and form their own conclusions on the matter at hand. Reading the views of other ordinary people, they will readily question and evaluate what is being said. Doing this, they may begin a similar journey of self-discovery and intellectual self-reliance.”

Despite (or perhaps due to) the rise of technology, workers are spending more time working than any previous generation.  In order for these physical and online community spaces to catch on, people need to have some leisure time built into their routines.  They also need a desire to be social during their downtime.  Many Americans have gotten used to an isolationist lifestyle.  We say we value community, but we really take that concept for granted, cashing in on it when the mood strikes.

I personally struggle with finding the time to fit “community” into my life, especially because there are so many different “communities” that I belong to.  Life is different than it was when a small village of people did all aspects of life together.  Now we belong to various villages.  Sometimes they overlap, and sometimes they remain completely separate.  Church, work, this group of friends, that group of friends, my friends, my husband’s friends, friends we share that have kids, friends we share that don’t have kids, online and long-distance friends,  and then there are our actual neighbors from the hood! It’s difficult to find time to participate in all of it, and somehow with all of these different opportunities for engagement, many of us feel isolated or lonely.

No one has to do it all, but get plugged in somewhere.  Participate.  Your community needs you.


Rules of engagement:Wikis, blogs and coffee shops

Aloha friends!

So it turns out wikis, blogs and coffee shops have a lot in common, but the focus of this post is the rules of engagement. The rules can be summed up in two words:

Play Nice

When I researched the history of coffeehouses, I learned that respectful and civil discourse was expected.  Informal rules regulated the space and fostered lively but civil debates. In 1674, these informal rules were compiled into a poem that was printed and posted on the walls of several coffeehouses in London.  Here are some lines from the poem, re-published in part in McComb’s essay.

“Enter, Sirs, freely, but first, if you please, Peruse our civil orders, which are these…
But let him forfeit twelve pence that shall swear; He that shall any quarrel here begin, Shall give each man a dish t’ atone the sin…Let noise of loud disputes be quite forbone, No maudlin lovers here in corners mourn, But all be brisk and talk, but not too much…”
People came to consider the poem satire due to the fact that these rules were broken when discussions became heated and passions were strong, and yet, the coffee house maintained an elevated reputation of a place of public discourse and intellectual exchange rather than a place of brawls and debauchery associated with the pubs of the day.

The current coffeehouse etiquette also requires respect and civility.  I learned about this on my very first visit to Fiddlehead Coffee Co. when I saw the baristas wearing “Hate Free” buttons.  I learned even more about the house rules when I visited Will from Café Steam.  Will explained that at his shop, he really wants to encourage people to exchange ideas and have open conversations.  Typically, this goes very well.  People are respectful and genuinely interested in learning from each others perspectives.  He did say that certain external factors can sometimes have an impact on these conversations, and that has, on occasion, caused a problem.  He cited the tension-filled time in our society immediately following the election of President Trump as a period where he had to be more vigilant as a coffee shop owner to be sure the atmosphere was one that fostered healthy and safe discussion.  He recalled a couple of incidents where he had to escort a customer out for cussing out another customer.

Will also mentioned having to do a fair amount of bouncing due to the fact that his shop is located near downtown bars and pubs.  Intoxicated individuals looking for a little more action than he wants to promote at his shop will stop by and need to be re-directed elsewhere.

Just this week, Rochester learned of another instance where Will had to put on his bouncer’s hat at his coffee shop.  Two local politicians, running for different political offices, met at Café Steam to discuss their differences. This sounds like the exact type of conversation encouraged by coffeehouse philosophy; however, the whole exchange went south quickly, and one of the politicians found himself being escorted out after local law enforcement was called (Local News).

The Wiki Way

The members of the wiki community regulate themselves a little bit differently.  Some wiki communities are gated to begin with, only allowing identified individuals to participate, but in the open wikis, there are some policies in place to help the wikizens self-regulate.  Ward Cunningham, who started the Wiki Wiki Web and a company for programmers called C2 Wiki, has devoted several wiki pages to educate people about The Wiki Way.  On C2’s page, “WelcomeToWikiPleaseBePolite“, you can read this introduction,

“It’s quite possibly one of the most civil online discussion forums you’ll find.  Maybe a little dull, even…… “

The reader learns that confrontational communication is not welcome on the wiki. “Master the fine art of respectful disagreement and disagreeing respectfully.” C2 Wiki carefully explains that they do not want to discourage participants from disagreeing or having a different opinion, but they have set up rules for when/where/how to communicate ones contrary position on the MakeRoomForAllViewpoints page.   DeleteInstults, a page on C2 Wiki, says this, “Insults and abuse don’t belong in this wiki. Confronting bad ideas and faulty reasoning are encouraged, but personal attacks have no value. They are just noise.” Wikizens are allowed to simply delete insults when/if they come across them.  However, they don’t encourage too many deletions.  If the insults are still contain some valuable ideas, or if they are just in fun, they should not be deleted.  Wikizens are encouraged to set a good example for newcomers, to guide and re-direct when a newcomer gets a little out of line, to ignore obnoxious behavior, thereby discouraging that type of contributor, and to only delete the most blatant of insults.

Blogging P’s and Q’s

Blogging communities are quite different, mainly because there are so many different genres of blogs, and even within genres, there is room for individuality.  Some bloggers might enjoy the unwieldy and uncensored communities, while others may prefer more gentrified spaces.

Andy Koh and company divided blogs into two categories: personal and non-personal and conducted a survey to determine if each group held to a code of ethics and if so, were the codes similar. They looked to authors like Rebecca Blood who advocated for a code of ethics similar to that found in journalism. Their hypothesis was that they would find this code to be more predominant among the non-personal bloggers, but once the data was collected they discovered both groups to be quite “ambivalent” about the need for a code to exist. Koh and company surmise this has something to do with the fact that blogging is not a money-making endeavor. At the time of their study (2005) around 24 individuals were making a living blogging. Because it was seen as more of a hobby, the bloggers didn’t see much urgency in having a code; in fact, most surveyed didn’t rate personal accountability very high on the priority list either. Koh and company do admit that the study had limitations and therefore is not conclusive.

Like in all social media, some members may try to correct the bad behavior of others, but that usually ends up in a comment war.  Some bloggers, who wish to maintain a certain level of discourse, will set up a gate-keeping system to pre-approve comments before they get published on the blog. This systems is an attempt to keep the riff raff out.  It is also an attempt to keep out comment spam.

Aimeee Morrison writes about the practice of policing comments. “The free-for-all of democratic, unfiltered interaction provided for by anonymous, instant commenting has been severely challenged by the advent of “comment spam,” the blogosphere version of unsolicited mass-mailed advertisements: early ideals of mass participation are now bumping up against the realities of un-neighborly commercial practices.”

So while coffee shop owners are dealing with out-of-control customers and Wiki collaborators are shunning the ill-behaved participants, bloggers are waging a battle with the bots of the commercialized internet.

The main focus of this article has been about site-management, but bloggers also run a sort of tit-for-tat community – one that revolves around reciprocity.  If I like your blog, you should like mine.  If  I credit you, you should return the favor, and so on.  I wrote about the human – cyber communities  and the reciprocity agreement in an earlier post.

Jill Walker Rettberg* writes about this in her article, “Weblogs: Learning in Public.”

“One advantage of using weblogs is that they come with a built in code of conduct that has grown from this very collaborative spirit. You read a lot when you blog, and you use other peoples’ words all the time, and instead of writing out a citation in a form that many students find very complex, you link to the website where you found the words.”

This ping-back practice is not to be taken lightly, however.  Scott Rosenberg in his book, Say Everything, informed us that Jorn Barger (the man who coined the term weblog) was eventually ostracized by many of his own followers when he began linking to anti-Israel sites. His reputation became questionable in the blogosphere. Rosenberg stated, “…in the world of weblogs, you were what you linked to” (97).

I find it interesting that wikis, while the most open philosophically to mass collaboration, have the most structured system of management and rules of etiquette.  Bloggers are rather lackadaisical about the concept of adhering to a code of conduct, and coffee shops  ascribe to the idea that it’s more important to keep the spirit of the law than the letter of the law, in that they don’t really have anything set in writing; it’s just a common, social and cultural understanding.

So, before I go, I want to remember my manners and thank you for your time and attention through this lengthy post.  I appreciate your interest, and I hope you’ll stop by again soon to learn even more about the connections I’m making between wikis, blogs, and coffee shops! Aloha!


*Walker Rettberg, Jill. (2005). Weblogs: Learning in Public. on The Horizon. 13. 112-118. 10.1108/10748120510608142.





Weekly Reflection – Working on Wikis

What I did~

This week I worked on three tasks:

  1. Researching St. James Coffee in Rochester, Mn (the fourth shop in this project). You can read about the shop here and here.
  2. Researching Wikis by reading Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, “The Wiki Way” by Schumpeter, and several pages on Wikipedia.
  3. Touring and writing about my classmates’ projects (you won’t see my write-up on this blog because I posted it to our class Wiki page; however, you can visit my classmates’ projects for yourself if you’re interested.  Here are the links:

How it went~

The work I did this week felt a little fractured at first because I had so many tasks to accomplish- each one unique. I wasn’t sure how or if I would be able to make any connections.

Due to a combination of events, I got a late start researching St. James, and so I decided to begin my work with the Project Tours.  Doing this was really helpful.  I was able to see how others were approaching the topic.  Two of the projects I looked at were blogs, so that helped me compare what I’m doing with their blogs. The third project is a carefully designed and crafted website.  It was fun to see the other projects.  All of my peers were doing really great work, and it re-energized me to try something a bit different in my posts.  I originally noticed how Josh was using links to guide readers to other informative articles.  Kendra too was using links to connect her readers with additional information but also to cite her sources.  Will, because he isn’t working in the blog format, used links embedded in images to transport visitors into the Wunderkammer where the visitor gets to stay and explore or back out if they wish.

I wanted to apply what I was seeing in their projects to my own work, and the way I decided to do that was through links.  I had been studying the hyperlink in another class, so they were in the forefront of my mind already, but I realized I mostly used the link in the traditional scholarly way – as a means of citing the source of my research.  I used them in place of a parenthetical citation (most of the time).  Sometimes I was using them as a way to steer traffic to another site (like when I link to one of the coffee shops I’m researching).  I had not fully taken advantage of one of the original uses of the link – to provide the reader with an indexed list of places to go on a particular topic.  So, that was the approach I used in my post about the history of Wikis.  Here I tried to limit my own commentary to resemble more of an actual Wiki page which is full of hyperlinks to other wiki pages.

Creating a hyperlink rich post was challenging but freeing at the same time.  It was a fun challenge to figure out how to weave them all together – to provide some kind of thread to make the links more legible and comprehensible without giving away too much information.  I really wanted to let the linked-to pages do the informing.  I wanted to provide a fair amount of links so the readers had to make a choice about whether they were going to follow all of them or just pick and choose a couple that looked interesting.  It was liberating in that I didn’t have to work so hard at summarizing and paraphrasing all the material for the reader.  It was kind of like when the kids ask you a question you’re not ready  to answer, and you get the privilege of saying, “Go ask your father.”

I was happy with the way I was able to learn from my peers and be energized to try something different.  I never did really find the connections I was hoping to find between Wikis and St. James Coffee.  I had some ideas about how their philosophies were going to overlap, and maybe I could find some parallels by looking closer at religion as a metaphor for wiki collaborators, but I never was able to bring those ideas to fruition.  It just wasn’t clicking this week.

What’s Brewing~

Next week I will be visiting my final coffee shop for the project: Dunn Bros.  I’m going to take a different approach this week due to the upcoming deadline.  Since Dunn Bros. is a chain, and not an independent shop, I’m not going to do the in-depth study I’ve been doing.  Rather, I’m just going to be using their space for my own work.  I’m going to attempt to make that shift from tourist to regular.

Now that I’ve completed the background research on coffeehouse communities and blogging and wiki communities, I plan to spend this week crafting more posts comparing and contrasting them all.  This week, I plan to take the project into a little deeper waters in preparation for the final report.

“Perks” of the Project~

My favorite parts of this project have been getting to know the people behind the scenes of these coffee shops, and learning about their vision for these spaces.  I am continually blown away by the generosity of these coffeehouse owners/directors who are willing to give up an afternoon to talk with me – with nothing to gain for themselves.

Zach at St. James Coffee was another hospitable and gracious host – just like Will, Abe and Sarah from my previous visits.  I am very grateful for their time and willingness to help me with this project.  Their insights have been monumental in shaping my posts and ideas.

Another perk is of course, the coffee!  Last week at St. James Coffee, I had one of their signature drinks: The Reseese’s Peanut Butter Cup Mocha! There aren’t even words! This sabbatical sure is miserable. 😉

Finally, you know how sometimes you’re researching and writing, and then you find the perfect addition to your research AFTER you’ve completed the work?  Well, this week, something hit the press with perfect timing!  While the incident itself is extremely unfortunate, the event made for a great addition to the piece I’ve been working on.  Look for this in the upcoming post – coming at you live tomorrow!

St. James Coffee ~ where customers encounter Christ

Photo: St. James in Stained Glass by Bonnie Robinson.  All rights reserved.

Monday afternoon, I sat down to visit with Zach, the team leader at St. James Coffee in Rochester, Mn.  We exchanged pleasantries and introductions briefly and then got right down to business.  I wanted to learn more about this place because it was obviously not your ordinary coffee shop.  I asked him to tell me more about the operational side of St. James.

Zach explained that the business is a non-profit organization.  They opened in 2012, and since then there has been some leadership changes as they try to figure out the best fit for such a uniquely structured business.  Currently, they run a paid staff of five people (Zach  – as the team leader, an operations consultant, a volunteer coordinator, a volunteer scheduler, and an events coordinator).  Ideally they would like to have 100 active volunteers.  Right now they have about 65 regular and active volunteers, ranging in ages from 16 to 75.  Most come from the six catholic churches in town.

I asked if he could describe the mission and vision for this place.  Zach paused, careful to remember the wording correctly.

“To be a place where people encounter Christ and His church, and our vision is to develop disciples and equip evangelists.”

I applauded his ability to recall the mission statement complete with the alliteration that some committee worked hard to achieve.  All levity aside, we went deep quickly into what that actually means on the ground level.

Zach told me he had recently read an article  about how some coffee chains are changing their interiors to discourage customers from overstaying.  “They are changing their space to get more people in and out,” Zach stated, “but we’re a different place here. We think of coffeehouses as the modern living rooms.  A coffeehouse is familiar and inviting.  If we can almost be like the front porch of the church. Not a front, like the mob used the Italian restaurant as a front,” he laughed, “but like the old fashioned front porch where people felt more comfortable getting to know each other.  It’s a starting point to developing a closer relationship.”

“How do you achieve that mission?” I asked.  Zach explained how the coffeehouse strives to partner with parishes but does not want become another church.

“We want to be a place for all people

and not just become a catholic club.”

“In order to bring more people to this place,” Zach continued, “we decided to focus on our volunteers, making sure their time spent here wasn’t a drain on them but rather a place that fills them up.  A fun place to hang out, to bring their friends, and to interact with customers.”

I asked Zach to describe the customers who frequent the shop.  “Many of our customers are from out-of-town and are looking for community.  They go to a parish, but with the large size of the parish, they find it hard to get involved.  Many are already Catholic and looking for fellowship.  They come here to find community and get involved.  We’ve also seen this as a hub for young adults (20s-30s) doing small group Bible studies or other small gatherings.”

“We have lots of regulars – high schoolers who like to study here and also volunteer. Retired people.”  He leaned over the table and subtly and quietly pointed to an older couple sitting near the front.  “Those two come here twice a day.  Every day.”  I saw the older gentleman, wearing headphones and working on his laptop.  His wife sat devotedly near by flipping through the pages of a paperback.  Zach went on to tell me St. James gets many visitors after daily mass which ends around 9:30. Parishioners gather to visit and have a coffee. They get a few professionals who office here.  Today I saw five customers working on laptops.


St. James plays an important role as a community gathering space – a place where one can get to know other people – who need that same connection.  Zach said, “The twist that St. James puts on it is that it does that in a religious context, bringing the desire to connect socially  into the realm of the spiritual. St. James wants to elevate beauty, goodness and truth in our city by providing the spiritual component.”

There is a chapel in the back of the space, so I asked Zach about that. “We actually hold mass here once a month, so we have the tabernacle there. We believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  We believe that when customers visit this place, they truly encounter the very presence of Jesus Christ.”  Zach told me that customers are welcome to visit the chapel at any time, and he said it gets used often.  It’s a place to pray or just to sit and just be still.

I thank Zach for his time, and he went about his day.  I stayed to type up the interview.  As I worked, a couple of young moms with toddlers in tow came in. The moms chatted from the two leather chairs, eating fresh chocolate chip cookies and sipping coffees,  and the little boys played “coffee shop” with the children’s toys in a small play area close by.

One of the little boys asked the other, “Want some coffee from my coffee maker?” his tuft of pale blonde hair bouncing on his head as he tilted his head from side to side.

They each sucked in huge gulps of air through tightly puckered lips, pretending to sip their imaginary coffee from miniature white plastic cups.

“My coffee is all gone!”

“My coffee is all gone too!”

“I shot the bad guy!” Blondie suddenly switched gears.

“Now he’s running away from us!” And the two of them took off across the room to chase the bad guy and save the day.

I smiled at the two little rambunctious toddlers and the perfect metaphor the two had just performed right in front of me of St. James.  A place with a mission –  to serve customers good coffee and to make the world a better place.

*                                           *                                          *                                             *

I packed up my stuff and walked to the counter to order a customer favorite for my drive home: The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Mocha. Rich, bold, chocolatey, salty, silky…  I’m pretty sure my taste buds erupted in the hallelujah chorus with the first sip. I have never seen a peanut butter cup coffee at any other coffee shop.  Perhaps another divine inspiration because it was truly heavenly.



Wikis – History via Hyperlinks

Photo: Wikinomics and an Iced Zumbro from Old Abe’s by Bonnie Robinson CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Note: In one of my classes (not this one), we are exploring the way readers read hypertext.  I decided to experiment writing a post that heavily relies on hyperlinks.  In a previous post about the history of blogging, we learned that the early webloggers took on the challenge of sorting through all the clutter on the web to present the reader with a condensed, reliable and informative list of links to places with the best information.  I can’t make any promises about my web editing capabilities, but here is some information about wikis.  Follow the links or don’t. The choice is yours.

Wikis are a relatively recent invention. They are only 24 years old. Okay, so that’s probably like 107 in technology years or something.  The Wiki was invented by Ward Cunningham in 1994. In fact, many people still don’t know what a wiki is, and much of the population doesn’t participate in this technology, except to use Wikipedia.  Everyone uses Wikipedia.

Wikis are unique because they are websites designed to accommodate multiple contributors, working collaboratively.  Ward Cunningham welcomes visitors to his wiki, and he lays out some of the ground rules for participation in the wiki community.  Sebastian Rupley wrote this article explaining a little more about wikis and how they differ from blogs.

Originally wikis were populated with programmers and software engineers, but now there’s a long list of existing wikis appealing to a wide range of collaborators from foodies to Star Wars fans. Some wikis have now become read only, but many are still open communities. The open collaboration of wiki communities is what makes them especially unique. And this type of open sharing of information is catching on.  This New York Times article explains how scientists are calling for an open collaboration approach in the field as a way to support one another and do the good work of researching for the better good of the people, not under the control of profit-hungry corporations.

The concept and philosophy behind wikis and open source information sounds altruistic and promising, but in a capitalist society, I am not quite sure I fully understand the wikinomics. But, even if I don’t understand exactly what the business and economic advantages and disadvantages are, there are plenty of stories about sharing out there. This article, published in the Economist details how wikis are changing governments, media and specific industries.

The web is undoubtedly changing our world at a more rapid pace than we’ve ever seen before.  Wikis provide a way for people of all walks of life and from every corner of the globe to collaborate, communicate and shape the future.


St. James Coffee

Monday afternoon at 3:30, I stepped through the front door of St. James Coffee located in a small retail plaza on the north end of the city.   It’s situated between a yoga studio and a chiropractor’s office, down the line is the Asian food store and a laundry mat. As I open the door, the first thing I hear is conversation.  The rise and fall and back and forth of men involved in dialogue.  I see the source: two gentlemen, wearing dress shirts, sitting at a front table.  It takes a minute for my eyes to adjust to the dim interior, but the warm glow from the overhead lights soon takes over, illuminating the space.

A tiled walkway runs down the center of the shop, but rich hard wood floors dominate the seating area.  Small tables and chairs are clustered here and there, and one family style table resides near the back.  A  large stone fireplace warms up the center of the shop, and a couple over-stuffed leather chairs create a reading nook.  I see two individuals working independently on their laptops at separate tables in the back.

I approach the counter to order my coffee from a friendly young man.  Three glass-topped cake stands advertise specialty pastries. Bagged coffee lines the shelves of a display case to my left.  I take one of the small tables in the center of the room.  Within a couple of minutes, two retired age women enter.  They order coffee and pastries, share some light banter with the barista, and make their way to a small table near the fireplace.  They quickly launch into conversation – catching up on life.  The music in this space is contemporary Christian worship music.  Upbeat, hopeful and bearing the message of faith.
St. James art wall

A little while later, a professional looking woman, pulling a rolling suitcase behind her, hustles in.  She immediately takes over the family table, tossing a long table cloth over it and setting items up on top.  “Mary Kay,” she explains to the two retired women.

I get up to walk around and snap some pictures.  I notice the history of the shop on display in framed newspaper clippings on a back wall.  Through reading this article originally by Ken Klotzback at the Post Bulletin, I found out that the shop opened in August of 2012 as a result Reverend Matt Fasnacht’s “divine inspiration.”  Fasnacht had a passion for evangelism and was motivated by the apostle Paul who took the gospel into “the marketplace.”

The shop is run by and large by volunteers and the profits go to support anti-poverty charities. Fasnacht says they aren’t proselytizing, but they are available and open, and they encourage customers to ask questions.  In fact, they post a sign above the counter to announce this philosophy.  This means that answering questions about the Bible, God or faith are required qualifications for the staff and volunteers.  It goes with the job description (Klotzback).
Great news; Good coffee

Finding a coffee shop that grew from a faith-tradition and whose mission and focus is about blending the Good News with good coffee leaves me in amazement.  Each new coffeehouse I visit surprises me with its unique mission, atmosphere, and contribution to our community.  When I started this project, I was expecting to find that the coffeehouse was an integral third place for those who frequented it, but I wasn’t anticipating each coffeehouse to be so unique.

I wasn’t anticipating that coffeehouses

would minister to such deep and

diverse needs in our community. 

A coffee shop isn’t just a coffee shop; they each fill a special need in our city.  Even in the era of the commodification and commercialization of coffee, there are shops out there where making a difference in the lives of people is the number one priority.

As I sit here, considering the mission of St. James, I am reminded of a verse from the book of James.  Chapter four, verse eight says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…” I take another sip of my coffee and just settle in to soak up the warmth of this place dedicated to helping people find hope and faith.

Old Abe’s Coffee Co.: We try to do good and have fun.

Photo: Old Abe Comic Sign  by Bonnie Robinson.  All rights reserved.

Monday afternoon, I drove across town to Old Abe’s Coffee Co. to meet with owner, Abe Sauer.  The two of us sat down at the countertop bar, I pulled my questions up on my laptop and fired away.

I asked Abe to describe his vision or his mission statement.  “Fun? I guess?”  He kind of chuckled.  “Not to take this place too seriously.  Not the food, the coffee, or the place too seriously.”  I leaned in a little when he said this because this was a turn from the previous two shops I had been to.  At Fiddlehead, a top-quality product was a primary focus.  At Cafe Steam also, Will associated his shop with the third wave of coffee where the quality of the product deserves utmost attention.  Abe explained, when you get into foodie culture or artisan-based culture, you can get too serious about it and that can take the fun out of it.  “You’re making food and coffee,” Abe stated.  “You’re not saving lives. You’re not changing the world.  You can’t take yourself too seriously.  We try to do good and still have  fun.”

Abe shared a bigger vision  for developing city parks and the area around them to foster economic growth and vibrant communities. ” I shopped around for a place close to the park.”  Old Abe’s is a couple lots away from a neighborhood park.  “I’d like to create a more dynamic area around the park.  I lend pickle ball equipment to people for free to use at the park’s courts.  Having the food and drink close by encourages people to use the park and use it longer. The better the park is, the better the community dynamic.”

Despite (or maybe because of) the heavy gray skies and the swirling snow flakes outside,  we entertained our imaginations for a few minutes, painting mental pictures of summer and sunshine and coffee.  We envisioned families playing together in the park and then stopping by Old Abe’s for grilled cheese sandwiches and iced lattes. Or parents hanging out back at Old Abe’s picnic tables, sipping a cold brew,  watching their older children compete on the pickleball courts nearby.  Flocks of bikers, stopping in for a hearty lunch before taking off on the second leg of their trip. When it’s still winter in April, Minnesotans like to dream of the promises of summer, and these dreams all included a nice food or beverage from Old Abe’s.

The location for Old Abe’s is unique in that it is located on a dividing line between the commercial outskirts of downtown and the residential development that was built up post World War II.  Because of this locale, his customers are a cross-section of people.  Abe categorized the customers as community neighbors, out for a walk and popping in for a coffee, park goers, including  families and athletes, vegans and vegetarians looking for a good meal, and those out-of-towners who like to find the quirkier places.  “It’s a different kind of space,” Abe admits.  “A lot of people with kids come in.  It’s not like other restaurants or shops where kids are allowed but are expected to be contained.  Here, kids kind of have the run of the place.  It can be noisy.”

Because it’s in a neighborhood, it has a familiar feel.  “Families will know each other.  People in the bike community know each other.  The Vegan community is pretty tight,” Abe says.  He explains that laptop customers tend to stay to themselves, but people with kids tend to talk to each other. “Talking about kids is a rather universal experience – a way to break the ice – it’s another safe topic to talk about, kind of like the weather.  They might actually have advice to give – a young parent might learn something about potty training or where the best dentist’s office is. When Abe said this, I immediately thought of the role of the early 18th century coffeehouses that were called “Penny Universities” because for the price of a penny, anyone could enter and listen to the lectures of local scientists or hear the latest political news and debate. I wrote about this in a previous post.

Earlier in the interview Abe said he wasn’t saving lives and didn’t consider his business integral to the progress of society, but after spending time in his shop this week, and learning what takes place here, I think coffee shops like his are integral to fostering a healthy and connected community.  Just like the coffeehouses of the enlightenment era, these shops are becoming people’s Third Places.  But maybe the role of the Third Place is changing now.  In the Enlightenment era, the Third Place was imperative to a strong democracy because it was in these spaces that news was shared and political views were exchanged.  In our modern society, we are immersed in news and politics. It’s hard to escape it. Maybe it’s important to have a space where we can just go to hang out with our children, have a coffee with a neighbor, have lunch with a friend – unplug and reconnect with one another.  A place to have fun.   I don’t think we should underestimate how much good that could do.





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