Cafés that are changing the world

Cafés that are changing the world

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Café culture has been central to the development of thought, philosophy, and industry over the years. For centuries, people have met to share ideas and hash out business ventures over a coffee in countries around the world; or whiled away their time watching the world go by. 

And since the 1970s, major coffee chains have created branded café experiences – customers can go to Starbucks in 80 different countries and feel (pretty much) at home, with a familiar setting and standardised coffee taste. 

Today, though, a different kind of café is on the rise. It’s small, independent (usually), and it puts the capital C in Community, offering far more than a hot drink. Community cafés are changing the world – one coffee at a time. 

How are we defining community cafês?

We’re talking about cafés that are proactive about serving a real purpose in their local community. They might provide services and schemes to combat local issues like loneliness or unemployment; connect members of the community through events that allow them to meet like-minded people; offer space for other community organisations to work; or something else entirely. 

But the key is that they act as a linking place. A space for people to come together, engage in shared experiences, and feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. When they visit the café they’re not just buying a cup of coffee – they’re getting involved in something. 

Community cafés foster collaboration

Some cafés are about you being you: you go to get a drink, to sit, to be on your own or to socialise with your own group. Maybe you take a laptop and sit alone at a table to work, or you take a book and read. 

Community cafés are a little different. They don’t invite you to sit alone and do your own thing – they invite you to collaborate in some way. And these cafés exist both in urban settings and rural areas – driving collaboration between disparate and ever-changing collections of urban residents, or groups of people who share a smaller area and see each other regularly. 

These cafés are often not focused on speciality coffee. The food and drink isn’t the main event; it’s there to support collaboration, to give people a reason to come and be together, and to facilitate a shared experience that takes the pressure off. 

Think of it this way: if you go to a community meeting that’s specifically about being together and collaborating, you might feel like you have to perform in a certain way and achieve something. But if you go to a café for a bite to eat, and by being there you have the opportunity to engage in community activities and feel like you belong – it’s a less intense (and intimidating) experience. 

Some examples we love…

  • Old Skool Café in San Francisco, USA. It’s a fine-dining club run by young people – and it provides employment and career development opportunities to people aged 16 to 22 who are at-risk, previously incarcerated, or from foster care.

  • Out of This World Cafe in Toronto, Canada. Operated by the Ontario Council of Alternative Business, this café provides employment development opportunities to members of the community who have struggled with their psychiatric health.

  • Blackburne House in Liverpool, UK. Part of a holistic education centre for women, the café here is home to a social enterprise called Hope Street Honey – a honey business that drives profits back into the centre’s programs, while also benefiting the local bee population.

  • Kinfolk in Melbourne, Australia. Run by volunteer staff, this café redistributes its profits to four development projects. Customers can choose which project they want to support – a capacity-building initiative in Rwanda; an anti-child slavery initiative in Ghana; an education scheme for young Indigenous Australians; or a café that strives for radical inclusion for people in Melbourne who are homeless or marginalised. 

Why should the F&B industry care about community cafés?

Isn’t this very niche, with minimal potential for profitability and scalability? Well – maybe, yes. 

But community cafés highlight how incredibly important food is for driving community and a collective mission. 

The F&B industry is facing major challenges globally, with increasing food insecurity and supply chain disruptions that are set to continue. And the ability to engage communities (including the international community of F&B professionals) is essential if we want to create solutions to those challenges. We have to work together to solve problems. 

And when it comes to working together this particular industry has a superpower: the community-building power of food. 

Do you know a brilliant community café or food initiative? 

We’d love to hear about it.

Join us at InFlavour 2024 to grow your network, expand your knowledge, and build your business. We can’t wait to see you there.

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