Sip of Hope Brews up Fresh Coffee and Vulnerability

Tucked among walk-up apartments and small businesses in Logan Square sits coffee shop Sip of Hope (3039 W. Fullerton Ave.). A white neon sign inside the store window reads “We’re in this together,” welcoming customers and passers-by. A detailed doodle-like mural of the words “have hope” on the back wall adds a motivational note — it’s a coffee shop with a mission.

The shop is owned and operated by Hope for the Day, a non-profit suicide prevention organization based in Chicago which seeks to promote conversations and provide education about mental health. Hope for the Day’s mantra, “it’s ok not to be ok,” adorns a wall of Sip of Hope.

Carl Evans, Hope for the Day’s senior director of programs and operations, said he and founder Jonny Boucher wanted to physically manifest the organization’s goals of prevention and conversation. 

“The idea of a brick-and-mortar space that feels safe and normalizes the conversation about mental health every single day is exactly the kind of environment that encourages people to be proactive,” Evans said.

Sip of Hope has been circulating that message since it opened more than a year ago, creating a calm, inviting environment to create a space for vulnerable conversations, some of which the customers start and others spurred by events hosted at the store.

Mary Grace Ritter | The Phoenix Sip of Hope is a non-profit cafe that donates all of its proceeds to suicide prevention and mental health. They also serve and partner with Dark Matter coffee, which is a brand that supports mental health.

The shop serves Dark Matter Coffee, a Chicago-based coffee company, which Evans said has been a “partner in prevention” for years. Dark Matter locations hosted events and spread Hope for the Day’s message from the beginning, making the decision to partner up and open Sip of Hope a natural one.

All the employees of Sip of Hope go through a day-long training in mental health first aid with Hope for the Day to ensure they’re prepared to listen to and assist anyone who walks in. Sip of Hope’s general manager Brian Kmiecik said there’s a minimum of two people working the floor in case one someone needs to step aside and talk.

“It’s pretty understood among our staff that the well-being of our fellow humans — not even necessarily customers, you don’t have to buy anything — just the wellbeing of people around us is more important than making lattes as fast as you can,” Kmiecik said.

Kmiecik, the first employee hired at Sip of Hope, said the shop caters to both his passion for coffee and community, allowing him to accumulate a variety of “individual moments with a long list of strangers every day.” Those connections could be as brief as taking an order or an in-depth discussion but for Kmiecik, there’s no expectations or pressure on anyone walking through the door.

“[Sip of Hope] is a place where regardless of where you are in your own head or in life, you are just welcome to be that person,” Kmiecik said. “We don’t ask anyone to pretend or hide their feelings or emotions and it’s a place where you can feel comfortable discussing those feelings and emotions with people that actually care and are here to listen.”

That personal attention is at the root of Sip of Hope’s mission. With each person that opens up about their mental health, they’re helping to end the stigma around it. The Victoria, Australia State Government Better Health cites “getting to know people with personal experiences of mental illness” as one way to challenge the stigma.

Kmiecik knows these aren’t easy discussions to have but said he’s confident in the team of employees they have.

Mary Grace Ritter | The Phoenix Sip of Hope is a non-profit cafe that donates all of its proceeds to suicide prevention and mental health. They also serve and partner with Dark Matter coffee, which is a brand that supports mental health.

“It can be a lot,” Kmiecik said. “The topic of suicide is heavy, there’s no way to dance around it. It’s a heavy word and with the stigma and kind of criminality that is implied, it definitely takes a certain type of person to be able to be receptive to that type of information and then can turn around and be sympathetic and a good listener.”

Laurel Posakony is one of the baristas ready to listen to someone vent or whip up their favorite caffeinated drink. They’ve been working at the shop since March but was an avid customer before finding her way behind the counter.

“I used to come in every day and get an iced americano,” Posakony said. “I was working as a barista at a different restaurant and I wanted a new job so I just asked if they were hiring and they were for the first time in the year since they had opened.” 

Posakony acknowledged they spent more money than they’d like buying coffee every day, but with Sip of Hope’s mission, they said it wasn’t money wasted. Posakony isn’t alone — Kmiecik said there are many customers who go out of their way to shop there just to support the cause.

While some may come from throughout the city, the shop seeks to integrate itself into the local neighborhood. Mike Vinopal, Hope for the Day’s education director, and Evans talked about Hope for the Day’s education initiatives. The organization hosts a program on mental health at Logan Square Branch of the Chicago Public Library across the street and live podcast recordings of discussions at the shop, each of which happen monthly and are open to the public.

Mary Grace Ritter | The Phoenix Sip of Hope is a non-profit cafe that donates all of its proceeds to suicide prevention and mental health. They also serve and partner with Dark Matter coffee, which is a brand that supports mental health.

“We didn’t just come into [the] Logan Square neighborhood and say ‘We’re taking over,’” Evans said. “We reached and connected with the people who live here and are right around the corner from them, but this isn’t some sort of exclusive place. … If you’re coming from Michigan or from another country like Malaysia like one gentleman did, you still feel like you can be a part of this.”

Customer Marie Marrero may not be from the neighborhood, but Sip of Hope has become ingrained into her experience in the city.

“I’m from San Antonio but Chicago is my favorite city ever and I’ve made so many friends here and every time I come I always bring them here to Sip of Hope,” Marrero, 27, said.

Marrero first learned about the shop when Chicago-based pop punk band Real Friends hosted a show-turned-album-release party at Sip of Hope. The band is one of the many donors listed on a wall of the shop. 

Marrero’s friend Daniel Gallegos, a 21-year-old from Chicago’s South Side, isn’t a regular at Sip of Hope, but said he appreciates the atmosphere.

“It’s nice to go to local spots like this,” Gallegos said. “It feels more warm and welcoming. It’s a good place to hang out versus a Starbucks or something where it’s more get your coffee and get out.”

The welcoming nature helps transform an average coffee shop into one that promotes authenticity and vulnerability. For Evans, it makes it a “hub” to keep the topic approachable.

“You come for the coffee, you stay for the conversation,” Evans said. 

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