The Well Coffeehouse: Mission in a cup
By Elizabeth Stewart
The coffeehouse is a modern well. People from all walks of life meet at these gathering places to catch up, complete their work or steal a moment of solitude. People will pay as much as $6 for a single, fascinating beverage that is vegan, gluten-free and calorie-free all while supplying energy.
While sitting in The Well Coffeehouse, one could find a rehabilitation recovery group to the left discussing the triumphs and failures of the week. To the front, one could find a businesswoman accompanied by a designer purse and the newest versions of every Apple product, sipping a cappuccino. At the counter there might stand a construction worker grabbing a black coffee to go before he returns to his site, and in the corner a group of sorority girls chatter about who they will bring to their upcoming formal while drinking iced coffees.
With all of these differences, what makes this coffee shop special is that all of these people are changing the world just by purchasing a cup of coffee.
“We want to turn the consumer into the consumed,” said Rob Touchstone, co-founder of The Well Coffeehouse and adjunct Bible professor at Lipscomb University. “The consumer comes in for a cup of coffee, but ends up being consumed by the mission, something greater than themselves. That is a subtle form of empowering people, because it’s like they walk out saying ‘I did something good today.’”
The Well has two locations, one on Granny White Pike by Lipscomb and the other on Old Hickory Boulevard in Brentwood. Rather than using their profits to expand to more locations, the founders of the business decided to become globally-minded and build wells in Africa and Haiti while supporting missions locally.
“The founders were really affected by the story in John 4, in which it’s a story of Jesus and a Samaritan woman at the well. And it’s this ordinary moment, this ordinary gathering place, but in that moment everything changes for her,” said Jason Parker, manager of the Granny White Pike location.
The Well’s goal is to create a loving, inclusive place and not a religious bubble.
“You know that at our coffee house you’ll not only be served a cup of coffee with a great respect and service, but you’ll be loved and included. It’s kind of like us saying ‘welcome home.’ You belong here,” said Touchstone.
The Well officially opened on July 11, 2012 on Richard Jones Pike by Hillsboro Road. Two years later, this location moved to Granny White Pike and then shortly afterward expanded to Brentwood. The Well hosts Sunday church services at both locations, with a 10:45 a.m. service in Brentwood and a 5 p.m. service at the Granny White Pike location.
Touchstone and The Well co-founder Chris Stoper got the idea for the coffeehouse after working with Otter Creek Church and Tusculum University. Both men were deeply affected by the number of people leaving the church. They wondered how they could reverse this trend.
“I grew up in the church and worked for 17 years as a youth minister and outreach minister. But for me I always felt like the building and the formality of the church sometimes stood in the way from an unchurched, or person that wasn’t interested in Jesus,” said Touchstone. “So my real goal for The Well was to create a very loving, inclusive space that stepped out of the religious bubble that went out to where people were.”
When walking into The Well Coffeehouse in the Nashville location, the wall at the entrance is called the wishing well.
This wall is full of notes containing joys, requests and worries for any passerby to read or even take down and help. The calls for help vary from people with car trouble to homeless families, and are almost always served, Parker said.
Natural light floods into the wooden, industrial-styled walls, where welcoming baristas and customers create a community-centered environment.
All of the baristas are trained to think about the customers as not just someone to do business with, but as someone to love and respect.
“Your clientele are your most valuable people. So even when it gets busy, not giving them the time of day when they order a drink is just as good as closing the store,” said barista Caleb Grendoron.
Painted on the wall of the second room of the coffeehouse is a world map decorated with pictures and pinpoints of the wells they have built. The coffeehouse has funded the building of seven wells in Toigo and one in Haiti. They are currently funding their ninth well, which will be built in Nairobi, Kenya.
“We know theoretically the impact, but it was so rewarding to hear them describe it. So when I get pictures back from Toigo and Haiti it means the world to us,” said Touchstone.
They team up with The Living Water Project, which travels to all of the drilling sites and carries out the manual building of the wells, and with Humphrey Coffee Company, a roaster that has its own mission. Started by Brian Hicks, the roaster hires inner-city teenagers to ensure they stay in school and can eventually can afford a college education.
Humphreys Street Coffee Company provides supreme quality coffee from around the world through lighter roasts, incorporating nodes of fruits and other interesting flavors. The Well sources its coffee seasonally in order to ensure the freshest products and a premium coffee experience.
“We want to make sure that we make our coffee with excellence, and not some watered down version that people will say, ‘Oh these guys have a great mission so we’ll go buy their coffee even though it’s not very good.’ We knew that we have to have an excellent product, because why would we not? Why would Christians somehow have an inferior approach to their product? We have the greatest story of all to live out of our Christian faith. Why wouldn’t we tell it and do it with excellence?” said Touchstone.
Friends Life Community, an organization which serves the needs of adults with developmental disabilities, also connects with The Well and works for the coffee shop. This partnership allows men and women who usually cannot attain a job to come in and help with certain tasks such as dusting, cleanup and other functions crucial to maintaining a well-run coffee shop.
The main message that The Well wants to get across to individuals is that God loves them. The Well is currently planning for a 10th well in Kenya. The plans for the location were developed after a recent school shooting took place in Kenya.
“We’re trying to tell people that we’ll love you and meet you where you are unconditionally. Our job is not to fix you, we know the one that fixes, and that’s Jesus. We want to love you toward that,” Touchstone said.