Bright and angular, the recently unused building on Tamiami Trail just south of University Parkway will soon be open as The Coffee Loft, a non-profit coffee shop owned and operated by the Woodland Community Church, a Southern Baptist church located in Bradenton.
“We’ve been wanting to do something to help connect with college students for a long time,” Woodland Senior Pastor Tim Passmore said. “This thing is not about pushing religion. I know it’s a church that’s doing it, but we’re not coming in to push religion on anyone at all.”
What they are pushing is “coffee, community, culture,” as the shop’s slogan goes. According to General Manager Daniel Campana, the coffees at the Loft are all fair trade and organic coffees from the Sarasota company Java Dawg, while the tea brands are China Mist and Novus. “[The teas] are triangular pouches with whole leaves … the real deal,” Campana said.
The Coffee Loft will also serve custom pastries from Café Au Lait, a French bakery in Bradenton, as well as Italian sodas and brand-name cereals, yogurts, parfaits and smoothies. Campana said they are still working on their menu, but that prices will be “comparable to Starbucks” and students will receive a discount.
One of the main reasons for opening the shop was to provide a place for students to study and mingle. “[The shop] was birthed out of the idea that there is really nothing else in the area … for college students,” Campana said.
The shop will be open Monday to Thursday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. However, they plan to stay open later during midterms and finals weeks. “This is going to provide another community center for students to study, with free Wi-Fi … and high-definition televisions,” Campana said. Students can also talk to Campana about reserving a time for meetings and study groups.
Additionally, Wednesday nights the Loft will host Open Art Studio, staying open until midnight to provide Ringling students with a space to work on art projects off campus, while Friday nights will be dedicated to bringing in local musicians. The Loft may also host special events for the holidays for students that remain on campus.
Plans are to also host forums and discussions at the Coffee Loft. “This is the perfect place for … having different perspectives in a healthy forum where people can … engage and learn,” Campana said. He added that for such forums, he would like to bring in professors from the nearby universities as well as local officials.
Apart from college students, another reason the church opened the shop was to raise money for various causes. “One of the things we are helping to support through The Coffee Loft is to use some of the money that’s coming in to buy food for families in the Newtown area,” Passmore said. Profits from the shop will also go towards Charity Water, an organization that builds wells to provide clean drinking water to lesser developed nations, as well as to Compassion International, which supplies children in impoverished areas with education, food and clothing. “We’re using the resources that come in to pay for our facilities, pay for our employees [and] pay for our products,” Passmore said. “Whatever is leftover is going towards [those causes and] we’re hopeful that’s going to be more than 10 per cent.”
Woodland Youth Pastor Kevin Bowder said that one Saturday a month, the church will plan service projects at the Loft, an initiative called United Service Project, or UServe, which is targeted at getting college students involved in helping the community.
As for ministry, the church has reserved an hour on Monday nights for a Bible study group called The Pursuit, according to Bowder. “This is separate from the business of the Coffee Loft and [we] reserve a space just like anyone else can,” Bowder said. “You don’t have to be a believer to come — if you want to debate us, you can come and debate us.” Additionally, one Sunday a month the church will host a faith-based gathering called United.
According to Passmore, the Loft will also livestream a church service on Sundays. “These things are … a service to kids who are Christians who are just looking for a place to connect in a new community,” Passmore said.
The ministry activities will take place on the second floor of the shop, so that business can continue as usual on the first floor.
“We don’t want to make [the Loft] our church,” Bowder said. “We want the business to be a business.”