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Helping the Hungry with Craft Beer and Coffee


Cultivate Coffee and Tap House WP

Kathy Schiffer - published on 10/14/15

"Cultivate" Coffee house and tap room serves up conversation and more

There’s a friendly new neighbor in Depot Town, the historic shopping district in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Cultivate Coffee and Tap House has opened for business.

The nonprofit shop is the inspiration of coffee connoisseur Billy Kangas and beer aficionado Ryan Wallace. Together, the friends have created a space where people can gather over something that they’re passionate about—enjoying a specialty coffee or a craft beer as they listen to a speaker, listen to music, or simply connect with old and new friends.

A Pledge of Excellence and Service

But beyond serving as a neighborhood gathering place, Cultivate will partner with the people of Ypsilanti, Michigan, in providing sustainable solutions for hunger relief through local and global gardening programs. Profits will be used to support local and international charities. Volunteers will tend a raised-bed vegetable garden behind the coffee and tap house, and produce will be donated to the needy.

Cultivate Coffee and Tap House WP

Billy Kangas, Cultivate‘s director of coffee and cause, described the new venture, listing three principles upon which Cultivate was founded, and which will characterize its operations: (1) We should approach all our work as craftsmen at a task; (2) We should put people first, more than financial gain; and (3) People can make a difference.

Ryan Wallace, director of beer and business, added that the first thing that people are called to do is to create good in the world. “The whole point of this,” he said, “is how do we love our community?”

The duo plan to operate Cultivate utilizing a transparent business model, allowing staff and volunteers to see their books so that they can better understand how the profits are helping the community and the world. They intend to obtain their ingredients and supplies locally, to support clean water efforts worldwide, and to create a community garden which will provide vegetables and fruits for a local food pantry. They plan to host community events, and pledge to offer their customers genuinely good products.

Amy Kimball Photography

The Coffee/Faith Connection

In an interview with Aleteia, Billy Kangas explained that his love of coffee originated in childhood, when he’d sit at the kitchen table with his mother and savor the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee. Later, he asked himself whether this beautiful drink could be a force for good in the world.

Billy entered the Catholic Church early in the pontificate of Pope Francis; before that, he had been a member and music minister in several Protestant denominations including Missouri Synod Lutheran, as well as in the Reformed and the Evangelical Covenant traditions. He explained that coffee played an instrumental role in reshaping his ministry: “I was inexperienced in evangelizing,” he confessed, “and it was a great failure. I had gone door-to-door, handing out tracts. I had done open air street preaching and outside demonstrations—everything I could think of! I had a passion to let people know about Jesus, and I thought that if I yelled loud enough, the Holy Spirit would make up the difference.”

“But gradually,” Billy smiled, “I realized that the Holy Spirit was telling me to shut up.” Rather than launching a full-blown attack in order to draw people toward the Christian faith, he needed to meet his neighbors. Billy began working in a local coffee shop, where he got to know and love people from his local community.

Cultivate Coffee and Tap House WP

“On a personal level,” Billy confided, “opening the Cultivate Coffee and Tap House has been hugely beneficial.” When he converted to the Catholic faith, Billy underwent an identity crisis: He had always thought of himself as a pastor, and he wasn’t certain what role he should play going forward. He learned that although God had given him the gift of pastoral ministry, he didn’t need to exercise that gift in the role of a priest. He could be “pastoral” without being a member of the clergy. So the coffee shop is, in Billy’s words, “a great project for me, enabling me to discover the vocation that God has given me. It’s opening my heart to be more authentically evangelistic, to engage in the New Evangelization with my whole life…. My love of coffee is deeply connected to my love of ministry.”

A Grand Opening in the Near Future

At present, Cultivate Coffee and Tap House is open for business from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., but is serving coffee only. Michigan’s Liquor Control Board has recently approve their application for a liquor license, and the next step will be an on-site inspection. After that, the team hopes to be fully functioning within a few weeks, selling both coffee and craft beer. Once beer is on the menu, the hours will be extended until 10:00 p.m. or even later.

Cultivate Coffee and Tap House WP

Images courtesy of Culivate Coffee and Tap House via Facebook

Kathy Schiffer is a freelance writer and speaker, and her blog Seasons of Grace can be found on the Catholic Portal at Patheos.  

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