Find out why there’s more than coffee in store at the Starbucks in Bed-Stuy

A mural of Bed Stuy, complete with flourishing coffee trees painted by Brooklyn-based muralist Olalekan Jeyifous.

When a new Starbucks makes its first appearance in any underserved neighborhood, it is usually a sign of only one thing: gentrification.

But Starbucks is proving it is about a lot more than latte.

In July 2015, Starbucks announced plans to open stores in 15 diverse, low- to medium-income urban communities across the country, a key strategy in achieving the company’s goal of hiring 10,000 youth, ages 16-24, who face systemic barriers to meaningful jobs and education.

So far, the company has launched ten of these “community stores,” with the most recent one opening this past March in Bed-Stuy, on the corner of Broadway and Sumner Place close to Bushwick’s border.

“The Starbucks partnership really represents the first formal partnership that comes with funding where an employer is investing in our work,”

A Starbucks community store is a cafe that is made by the community for the community, said Juanita Vasquez, manager of the new Bed-Stuy store. Vasquez said community service was always a big part of her upbringing. So managing a Starbucks community store is the natural progression of her values. 

The community café’s ethos proudly displayed near the creamers.

“One in eight American youths are not in school, don’t have a job and are unable to invest in their potential, but in Bed Stuy specifically it’s one in five,” said Vasquez, a native of East New York, Brooklyn. “So, how do we change that? That’s why we’re here.”

Inside of the Bed-Stuy café is a glass-walled classroom and meeting space available to The Hope Program, a local nonprofit organization working to provide job training and skills-building for young people in the area.

Executive Director of the Hope Program Jennifer Mitchell said she is hopeful about the partnership with the company.  Mitchell said that over the course of the next year, the Hope Program will engage one hundred local 18- to 24-year-olds in free curriculums of financial literacy classes, work wellness classes, conflict resolution and contextualized literacy, as well as the Starbucks Customer Service Excellence Training, thanks to a generous grant from Starbucks.

The Hope Program’s grant from Starbucks will engage work-readiness instructors and purchase tablets and laptops for the students and staff. The award covers other expenses too, like Metro cards for the students that have transportation challenges, according to Mitchell. Her non-profit also uses the Starbucks classroom space three times a week for trainings.

“The Starbucks partnership really represents the first formal partnership that comes with funding where an employer is investing in our work,” Mitchell said. “We’re thrilled to be in this partnership.”

Bed Stuy resident Jason Blakely on the grind at his neighborhood Community Starbucks.

Alondra Martinez, a Starbucks regular and native of Bed-Stuy, said that although she appreciated the efforts Starbucks was making, she feels the coffee’s price tag still is out of reach for many of the community’s residents.

“Honestly, I still think Starbucks has some work to do in terms of benefitting the community,” Martinez said. “Maybe if there was a type of coupon for senior citizens, or if there was a discount for students from the neighborhood for the students who live around here, that would make this more of a community store to me.”

The Bed-Stuy location also has contributed resources to other organizations, including Brooklyn Community Service Transitional Living Community, a 30-bed section of the Brooklyn Women’s Shelter in East New York, as well as a violence prevention organization called Life Camp.

“We’ve built great connections already and we’ve only been around for three months so we can only imagine what it’s going to be like a year from now,” Vasquez said. “We’re a really caring bunch.”

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Miranda Levingston

Covering everything Brooklyn. Twitter: @MLevNews

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