Whether you call it java, brew, or jitter juice, it’s evident through the frantic morning rush to work you need your caffeine fix. Nestled between hundreds of Starbucks and the independent cafés is one glimmering coffeehouse making a difference, one cup at a time.
Situated in the heart of South Bend’s River Park neighborhood, The Well is the only nonprofit coffeehouse where 100% of the profits go back to the community. Utilizing a pay-what-you-want consumer plan with suggested price donations, customers can pay the amount they are capable of paying in exchange for ethical and delicious coffee.
With a donation-based business strategy aimed to serving the Indiana community of South Bend, The Well’s manager, Megan Chandler says the reaction from customers has been an interesting one.
“Our nonprofit model has been [met with] confusion and surprise typically, with a tinge of suspicion,” Chandler says. “It is unique and takes a little getting used to—having a goal of community as oppose to profit is a perspective adjustment.”
First opening its doors in November of 2012 to customers of all faiths and backgrounds, Chandler admits starting the business with her team from the “untraditional church” of River Park Grace was determining how expectations would fit in.
“The logistics were not too hard and learning the preferred methods of coffee making, frankly were highly enjoyable—you get to taste test a lot of different recipes,” Chandler says. “Yet with being new, we weren’t sure if it would fit the need of the area or not.”
Boasting a large space with wooden floors and community art decorated on its walls, The Well has been received favorably by patrons of all backgrounds and faith. Hosting a slew of weekly events and shows for customers, the coffeehouse fully embraces the value coffee brings to conversation and healthy communication. As Chandler says, the smaller crowds allow for actual conversation with new people than crowded coffeehouses can offer.
While some may be apprehensive to visit the warm and welcoming café with ties to a church where Chandler is executive pastor, she says The Well is a gift to the community from River Park Grace with no strings attached.
“Imagine Cheers but with coffee instead of alcohol,” Chandler smiles. “It’s an environment where people want to listen and join in community [and] not a place of proselytization.”
Running a nonprofit coffeehouse doesn’t come without help from willing community members. What many might not realize is that The Well is run entirely by volunteer baristas who serve for a season at a time.
“I hope all the volunteers know that they are loved and appreciated, and their time is not taken for granted,” Chandler says. “That can be felt by the patrons.”
While music and coffee are main ingredients denoted to the success of The Well, its main purpose has been to help various families and local business in need. Since 2012, the nonprofit coffeehouse has helped their community tremendously. From providing assistance to those who have faced tragedies like house fires and medical problems, to funding field trips for students at Nuner Elementary School, to adding a parklet for the community to use as a nice place to sit while awaiting the bus.
Additionally, The Well has provided microgrants with the hope of creating a sustainable livelihood for South Bend residents. Distributed through a voting system, Chandler discloses that different organizations and residents submit letters, while patrons vote on who should receive a $500 microgrant.
On April 23, The Well will be hosting a Princess Fundraiser event supporting Lauran and local Iraqi war veteran, Brian Cuyler as they fight to treat Brian’s Stage IV brain cancer. Since his diagnosis in 2015, Brian has been unable to work and his wife is the sole caregiver for him and their 3-year-old daughter. With fun games, coffee, baked goods, a raffle, and tons of prizes, profits from the evening will go towards the Cuyler family’s medical bills and other expenses.
“We have recently made a turn towards using the space especially for more specific fundraising events, like our all day music festival ‘Singing for Syria,’ that raised money for Syrian refugees,” Chandler says.
With The Well serving up fresh coffee and social change at the same time, the nonprofit donation-based model has been gaining traction across the country and around the world. For other companies to integrate the charitable model and transform their own business, Chandler believes having a definite goal that’s not profit related can help set the mind for engaging with the “whole person” who walks through the doors.
“Recognizing the humanity of others can’t help but set the stage for social change,” Chandler says. “If I can state a wish as well, [other companies] should provide an option for those who cannot afford to pay that is respectful and not shaming.”
Providing a welcoming atmosphere for families through the Children’s space and creating an environment of appreciation for the arts, Chandler says the key to their coffeehouse being so successful thus far is gratitude. Well, gratitude and a fan favorite that will have you coming back for more.
“We make a mean Dark Chocolate Mocha.”
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If you would like to attend the Princess Fundraiser Event on April 23 for the Cuyler family, visit the official event page at Facebook.