Admit it: Every once in a while you tell the dude making your $5 designer coffee that your name is something other than your own. Maybe you do it so everyone won't know it was you who just ordered the venti-half-caff-skinny-soy-Splenda-double-mocha-latte or paid extra for a steam process named after a lawn grass, because you really want the world to believe you're woman — or man — enough to drink black coffee. Or maybe you've always wanted someone to call you Tex. Or Bubbles. Or whatever pseudonym gets Sharpied on your paper cup and yelled across a Wi-Fi-enabled lounge of overstuffed armchairs.
Look, I get it. We've all got our tics, so no judgment from me if the worst thing you do all day is fake out your java dealer by telling him your name is Hot Lips.
But I wager you don't go spouting that kind of petty prevarication when you're ordering your Chemex or Aeropress at The Well. Not even the most jaded caffeine addict would fancy pulling a fast one on those philanthropic La Marzocco jockeys. The new coffee shop with a cause in Green Hills makes you want to be better than that.
There is certain poetry to the fact that this nonprofit cafe-cum-bookstore/gift-shop came to life in the soulless shell of an empty Burger King. It's like a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus transformation, if Paul were actually a defunct fast food unit that saw the light and reformed itself into a social enterprise dedicated to providing clean water to poor communities across the world. (Anyone want to tell these humanitarian baristas your name is Amanda Hugankiss? I didn't think so.)
If digestive muscle memory can let you forget all the Whoppers you ate at this address in the last century, you might never know you're in a former BK, so complete is the metamorphosis — inside and out — engineered by designer Laura Copeland. Weathered metal siding, reclaimed barnwood, burlap-upholstered seats and vintage furnishings create an eminently inviting atmosphere. On our visits, the vibe was equal parts business suits and yoga pants, with more customers sitting cross-legged in the lotus position and talking passionately than we usually find in Green Hills — at least, outside of the Y. There were also more hand-tooled leather accessories and faith-based literature than we usually find in any local coffeeshop. In short, The Well is a little different from what we're used to. And we like it, a lot.
There's something about starting the day with the optimism of the Wishing Well, a community message board where customers post requests for funding and other assistance to fulfill their philanthropic goals. For example, Elan needs dollars and guitars to bring a music program to an inner-city school, while Bryan is selling T-shirts to benefit fresh-water programs in Ethiopia. Check out The Well's Facebook page and you'll see an update about Jessica, who wished for a car and received a truck from a stranger.
The Well's own conception was a little something like that. Rob Touchstone floated the idea when he was a graduate student at Lipscomb assigned to envision what the Church would look like outside a church building. Touchstone wrote a business plan for a coffee shop that would make money for the sole purpose of redirecting it to the poorest people in the world. After graduating and becoming a youth minister, Touchstone teamed up with friends Chris Sofher, Matt Yates, Charlie Dillingham, Steve Morrow and Walt Malone to bring the homework assignment to life. The group prayed for the pieces to fall into place, and soon they had funders (with contributions from $20 to $20,000) and a benevolent landlord offering a favorable rent in a premium real estate area. If all goes according to plan, The Well will eventually funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through organizations such as Blood:Water Mission and The Living Water Project into efforts to supply clean drinking water around the world.
Two months in, the team is still edging toward break-even, but they've already made their first significant charitable contribution, in the form of a dishwasher for a hospital in Jamaica. It's enough to make your heart sing.
But is it enough to make you come back for a second cup of coffee?
Rather than rest on the considerable laurels of their good intentions, The Well team plunged into coffee culture, with the assistance of Just Love Coffee. The Murfreesboro-based consultants train the baristas and supply the global menu of beans for The Well's well-executed repertoire of drip, brewed, pressed (French and Aero-), iced and espresso-based coffee drinks. They also go the extra mile with a cream-and-sugar station complete with Monin syrups, cinnamon and other welcome extras.
If coffee isn't your cup of tea, there's a selection of Mighty Leaf teas, ciders and cold drinks, as well as excellent fruit-purée smoothies served in glass Ball jars. The high point of the food menu is the fresh selection of daily breads (actually, muffins and cinnamon rolls) provided by Foxy Baking Co.
Beyond that, there's a grab-and-go case of oatmeal and granola bars, which leaves a little something to be desired in terms of, well, taste. But if history offers us anything, it's that coffee vendors can grow into billion-dollar businesses without focusing on the edibles.
That said, The Well is no ordinary coffee vendor, so we'll cross our fingers and hope for even more. In the coming months, the store will ramp up a live music program, featuring weekly performances by local Christian bands. "We're hoping to become a Christian Bluebird," Touchstone says, referring to the landmark music venue just around the corner in Green Hills. Then he's quick to point out that The Well is not a church-affiliated enterprise. Notwithstanding the shelves of faith-based books, many of which inspired the board members in their global mission to support the oppressed, he points out that there's "not a lot of church-y language" in the place.
"We're not exclusively Christian," he says. "We're trying to appeal to an audience that is very diverse."
Touchstone and his philanthropic partners are well on their way.
The Well is open 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-10 p.m. Sunday.
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