At Calvin’s Coffee House, Fellowship Is on the Menu

If you’ve ever looked down while walking near the Dunkin’ Donuts on Copeland Street, you may have seen little black coffee cups spray-painted on the sidewalk. Follow them and you’ll be led to the basement entrance of UKirk Tallahassee. Inside, you’ll find a cafe menu beautifully handwritten on a chalkboard, a spacious lounge area filled with comfy couches, student-made art proudly displayed on the walls and a smiling barista or two. They host open mic nights after hours on Thursdays and serve free drip coffee during the first and last weeks of the semester (yes, you read that correctly, FREE DRIP). This is Calvin’s Coffee House, and for many students who spend their days on the east side of campus, it’s practically a second home.

Although Calvin’s now enjoys a large following of loyal regulars, the space came from humble beginnings. “Calvin’s used to be just a pot of drip coffee with a tip jar and no barista,” says Katy Whitesell, a senior Family and Child Sciences major who co-manages Calvin’s along with senior Psychology major Addison Mathis and UKirk pastor Sheldon Steen. “Starting here three years ago, I didn’t realize how much this place would make such a huge impact on my life.”

Courtesy: @calvins_coffee on Instagram

In 2013, the faculty and student ministers of UKirk decided to transform that simple pot of drip coffee into something more. They began serving the coffee in person and added other items to the menu like lemonade, tea and hot chocolate. In 2015, the staff purchased an espresso machine and began a wholesale partnership with beloved local company Lucky Goat Coffee. Now, in 2019, Calvin’s offers a full espresso bar menu that includes pastries and regularly serves over 150 caffeine-craving customers per day.

Courtesy: @calvins_coffee on Instagram

So what makes Calvin’s different from other coffee spots in town? The most obvious answer is written at the bottom of the chalkboard menu: “All prices are suggested donation.” Because Calvin’s is a part of the UKirk ministry, everyone is welcome to relax and enjoy, regardless of their ability to pay for their latte.

There’s an even bigger answer to that question, too. “The people!” says barista Monica Clayton. “What I love about Calvin’s is how community-focused it is. The staff is awesome and I love all of our regulars. My favorite moments I have at work are when I see one of my regulars in line, and I already have their order ready by the time they get to the register. Their reactions always make my day.”

Clayton, a senior double majoring in Marketing and Management, was a UKirk resident for the 2016-2017 school year. “Calvin’s started doing some open mic nights while I was living in the building, but only ten or fifteen people would come. But when I asked Sheldon during my barista interview last semester about how open mic nights were going, he told me now they get so packed that people have to sit on the floor and stand in the back! It’s absolutely wild to me.”

Courtesy: @calvins_coffee on Instagram

The open mic nights are just one of many unique ways that Calvin’s fosters fellowship among its patrons. “We strive to be a place of inclusivity for all people, and I think this idea has really grown in the past few years,” says Whitesell. Looking around the space, it’s easy to see these efforts in action. The staff supplies free tampons and pads in both bathrooms, there’s an informational poster titled “How to Be a Trans Ally” tacked up on the bulletin board and of course, it’s hard to miss the big rainbow flag on the wall. They’ve also hosted community events of all kinds such as a roundtable discussion co-hosted with Pride Student Union, an intersectional feminism art show and a no-pressure “speed dating” event on Valentine’s Day, just to name a few.

These strides to make Calvin’s a safe, welcoming space are paying off. Lots of customers feel the love in a major way. “There’s something special about Calvin’s,” says Giselle Parks, a senior Editing, Writing and Media major. “I feel so seen here, and I see myself in all the people who come here.”

Courtesy: @addisontmathis on Instagram 

In a quote for T.ART, Mathis says, “I think it’s important for people to know that, while Calvin’s is technically a ministry, it’s a space for everyone, and there aren’t any qualifications for that. We all believe in love. And coffee. And community.”

For a coffee shop with the motto “Love People, Love Coffee,” Calvin’s certainly seems to be living up to its expectations. “We put people first,” says Clayton with a big smile. “It’s all about the people. The coffee is more of an afterthought.”