Independent coffee shop Sorrento Sweets opens in Four Winds Cafe, debuting coffee cups with Bible verses
A Sorrento Sweets cup displaying the Bible verse in front of the Four Winds Cafe. (Taken by Isaac Tellechea.)

Independent coffee shop Sorrento Sweets opens in Four Winds Cafe, debuting coffee cups with Bible verses

On Apr. 25, the Four Winds Cafe hosted the grand opening of Sorrento Sweets, privately-owned coffee and pastry shop. In years past, the Four Winds has traditionally been occupied by student bakers and baristas, giving Novos the opportunity to earn money and gain skills while encouraging community building. Deemed unprofitable after 23 years in operation, Four Winds closed its doors in the spring of 2019. 

New College VP of Finance and Administration Chris Kinsley took the lead in renovating the building as a study space, and Sorrento Sweets marks the first attempt to establish a new cafe in Four Winds. Last month, it was announced that every day for the rest of the semester, the first 100 students to visit the cafe could enjoy up to $15 worth of free food and drinks, and one can currently walk in with a student ID and walk out with free breakfast. 

Changes at the old Four Winds were always hotly debated, but the addition of this new business on campus was executed suddenly, with no apparent community input. The Catalyst looked into the origins of New College’s latest breakfast option, as well as student response to the addition and reactions to the replacement of a campus staple. 

Sorrento Sweets has multiple locations spanning the Tampa Bay area, including Port Richey, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Sorrento Sweets’ owner and operator is Jimmy Barbarise, who according to his LinkedIn page is a Tampa-based actor and entrepreneur. Until July 2022, Barbarise held the position of Athletic Director at Classical Preparatory School located in Spring Hill, FL. Classical Preparatory is a tuition-free charter school that was founded by Anne Corcoran, the wife of New College Interim President Richard Corcoran. 

A Catalyst reporter repeatedly attempted to secure an interview with Barbarise at Four Winds, but he could not be reached for comment. 

One unanswered question concerns the New Testament reference the company displays on its disposable coffee cups: “Phillipians [sic] 4:13,” alluding to a Bible verse that states, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” American public schools, including universities, are considered “an arm of the state” and are legally prohibited from promoting religious practices or preventing religious practices. As previously established by the 1971 Supreme Court case Lemon v. Kurtzman, there are guidelines that U.S. public schools must adhere to so as to not violate the clause of separation of church and state. These criteria include: doing nothing to prohibit or promote a particular religion, being motivated by a secular purpose and avoiding excessive entanglement. Excessive entanglement refers to a government institution working with a religious entity, especially the extent of the cooperation between the two. 

In response to the campus’ introduction of Sorrento Sweets, students and alumni expressed mixed emotions. 

“It’s nice that the Four Winds space is going to be used for coffee and pastries like it was before,” alum Emma Solloway (‘22) commented. “But it does kind of feel strange that it’s not being run by students anymore. It’s even stranger that they [Sorrento Sweets] seem to be a Christian organization.”

“Even with the Christian messaging, they definitely could’ve used a verse that fits more with the school or a positive message,” third-year Connor Park shared. “They chose a very God-centered verse which is interesting for a public school. The free aspect of it [this semester] is nice and it’s good to have a food option on the West side of campus, but their stock on a day-to-day basis seems too small. They are almost always sold out well before closing time.”

It is also notable that the majority of students currently on campus have never been able to experience the original model of the Four Winds, one that specialized in homemade vegan sandwiches and treats.

“It was just really special to have a place on campus that you could get some fresh, good food at that was also being cooked by your peers and friends,” Solloway said. “It was definitely a highlight of my early New College years.”

While there are still several questions when it comes to the future of Sorrento Sweets’ place on campus, it is undoubtedly convenient and beneficial to student life to add more food options to the limited supply that New College currently offers. With such a polarizing introduction, however, it is safe to predict that there will be more conversations surrounding the relationship between New College and Sorrento Sweets in upcoming months.

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