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Blending Coffee With Charity

Story: Jay Panandiker, Design: Nithika Badam, Photos: Karen Selva

The Roosevelt Coffeehouse is like many of the speciality coffee shops in Ohio’s capital city. It has high-end espresso machines, knowledgeable baristas and premium artisanal coffee. However, the Roosevelt, which was founded by Kenny Sipes in 2013, does have one key differentiator — its nonprofit status.


Kenny Sipes, founder of Roosevelt Coffeehouse.

When customers at the downtown store buy a cup of coffee, the profits earned are donated to one of the shop’s charitable partners. Currently, projects the shop supports center around three main areas — clean water, food insecurity and human trafficking. Sipes said the three categories were non-divisive, and that was a big reason he selected them.

“I think we can all agree that no one should starve to death, no one should die of a preventable water-borne illness and no one should lack freedom,” Sipes says. “It’s really hard to disagree with saving lives.”

Sipes spent over two years planning the Roosevelt concept before opening the shop, and a major part of this was meeting with social-justice organizations. Sipe’s best partners were those engaged in long-term projects that were making a real and genuine impact. He looked for organizations that were spending time on their projects and, especially in the case of international projects, were following up on previously completed work. One of the most recent projects that received the Roosevelt’s support was Restore International, which has a safe-house in Uganda for children who were sexually exploited.

“The full package to support everything that they do is $2,500 for a month,” Sipes says. “In July, we financed a whole month for that facility. It was kind of cool, because one of the partners for the organization went to that safehouse and was able to say to them, ‘We’re sustaining because of this little coffee shop in the middle of America that is doing things to impact people like you.’”

The Roosevelt also works with local organizations, such as Faith Mission, to whom they recently donated 2,000 meals. In September, the shop donated profits to Gracehaven, an organization that helps the victims of sex trafficking in Columbus, which allowed the organization to buy supplies for art therapy.

Sipes, however, knew that having a charitable cause may get customers in the door once, but it wouldn’t keep them coming back — something that would be crucial to the shop’s overall success.

A barista at the Roosevelt prepares a drink for a customer.

A barista at the Roosevelt prepares a drink for a customer.

“We knew they wouldn’t come back if we didn’t have a product,” Sipes says. “We’ve been received well because we bring a high standard. The reaction has been very positive.”

As a result, Sipes also focuses on the importance of the customer experience. The Roosevelt is one of two shops statewide to serve Stumptown Coffee, a popular Portland, Oregon-based brand as well as One Line Coffee, which is roasted in Columbus. Additionally, the shop has a large open space and free parking in order to draw people in.

Sipes founded the store after being a youth and college pastor for several years and seeing the commitment that people, especially young people, had for helping people.

“I just started dreaming of what we could be, and I visited people in a lot of different states to see what would be a great idea,” Sipes says.

For the next two years, Sipes worked on developing the concept, setting it up as a nonprofit and formulating the bylaws. Since developing and opening the shop he has learned to expect the unexpected.

“It’s not easy to start small business and have the right paperwork filed with every organization on the planet,” he says. “Just a lot of different things you weren’t sure were coming down the pike. It’s nothing dramatic, but everything takes longer than you expect.”

Sipes said the shop is currently exploring taking on more projects.  

“Columbus embraced us, we’re doing well,” he says. “As of the end of August we have given over $30,000 since we have opened. So it does say that this is working.”

The final product!

The final product!

Sipes explains one of his goals has always been for the shop to be a place for Ohio State students. Initially this was hard to achieve, but now that the shop has gained more traction he has begun to see the connection. As time has gone on, the shop has become an increasingly popular destination for students.

“Being 20 years old, you remember where you studied and where you spent your time,” Sipes describes. “You remember your favorite taco shop, you remember your favorite pizza joint and you remember your favorite study spot. The Roosevelt has become that for tons of college students, and in addition to that it has become this place (where students can say) ‘That’s where I spent all my time, and I was also helping something bigger than myself. And we feel like that’s the perfect university connection.’”

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