Black-Owned Coffee Shops Open Their Doors Wider as Starbucks Faces Up to Racial Demons

Blew Kind, owner of Franny Lou's Porch, sits with her 3-year-old daughter, Rosetta. (Idris Talib Solomon / for NBC News)
Blew Kind, owner of Franny Lou’s Porch, sits with her 3-year-old daughter, Rosetta. (Idris Talib Solomon / for NBC News)

In nearly a decade of owning coffee shops in the city, Blew Kind has learned the rhythms of East Kensington, her working-class neighborhood that has felt the strain of the opioid crisis and the pull of gentrification.

Once in a while, people come into her business, Franny Lou’s Porch, just to use the bathroom, or they sit down without ordering anything. Kind, 30, offers them water and allows them to linger.

“Sometimes they just need a place to chill,” Kind said recently, her 3-year-old daughter perched on her hip.

The welcoming vibe at Franny Lou’s, where lattes are named after historic leaders of color, presents a stark contrast to the incident that unfolded in a Starbucks a few miles away last month, when two black men were arrested after a white manager called police on them as they waited for a business associate.

The arrests spurred protests against Starbucks and the Philadelphia police, as well as calls for the city’s coffee drinkers to support small, black-owned coffee shops instead. Franny Lou’s customers shared stories on social media about how Kind offered a “safe space”; one patron left a handwritten note: “I’d rather give my coins to Blew & crew than racist Starbucks.”

Now, as Starbucks plans to close more than 8,000 locations across the country on Tuesday afternoon for “racial-bias education” for the staff — which could cost the Seattle-based coffee chain an estimated $12 million in revenue — owners of small coffee shops from Philadelphia to Sacramento, California, see both a financial opportunity and a chance to emphasize their value to the community. On the same day, Kind and other black owners of Philadelphia coffee shops will take part in a roundtable discussion at Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse to promote inclusivity and racial justice.

She said the arrests at the Starbucks in Rittenhouse Square, a high-income area downtown, got her employees and customers talking. Many were indignant but not surprised that this had happened in Philadelphia, where police have been criticized for disproportionately stopping and frisking black residents.

Kind, who once worked for Starbucks, decided to open her own business eight years ago to change a mindset among some African-Americans that coffee houses are a “white culture.”

At Franny Lou’s, named in honor of the abolitionist Frances E.W. Harper and the civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, shelves are stacked with books on African folktales, on the speeches of Malcolm X and on black women’s hairstyles. Lattes include the “Cesar Chavez,” flavored with cocoa and spice, and the “Angela Davis,” a lavender white mocha. In June, a chef will take over the coffee shop for an “End Mass Incarceration Dinner.”

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SOURCE: Erik Ortiz
NBC News