CHICAGO – A Logan Square-area coffee bar is rolling out a new form of coffee talk, one where the baristas double as mental health aides.
Sip of Hope, which opened to a packed crowd that included Sen. Dick Durbin, other politicians and a number of mental health providers from around greater Chicago, is run by Hope for the Day, a Chicago charity that aims to raise awareness of suicide prevention and mental illness. All of the cafe’s proceeds will go to the charity.
The hope for the new shop is that it will draw in passers-by who simply want a cup of coffee or a pastry but also those who want to have a conversation about a troubling time or even a planned attempt to self harm, Hope for the Day founder Jonny Boucher said.
When customers come in, the entryway is laced with pamphlets and information cards about mental health services and other outlets for help.
“For the longest time it was a matter treated with silence, then for a while, whispers,” Durbin, D-Ill., said of mental illness. “Now, thanks to Sip of Hope, it’s been greeted with honest conversation.”
The store’s process of greeting customers will be similar to other coffee shops, where workers will ask a customer, “how are you doing today?” But afterward, when many customers tend to go back to their phones, there is a chance for them to open up a conversation with an employee, who can help them navigate resources.
The charity’s mantra, “It’s OK not to be OK,” adorns the walls as well as workers’ T-shirts. A simple menu board is matched on a back wall with information about Hope for the Day. And hung near the front window is a list of supporters, which includes restaurants like Kuma’s Corner, that have raised money for the charity. Next to the list hangs a statement in bold letters: “We are in this together.”
The coffee is from Dark Matter, which first partnered with Hope for the Day in 2013. Boucher said he and Dark Matter founder Jesse Diaz talked about opening a business like this years ago. Once he committed to opening the shop, Boucher said Sip of Hope’s construction and opening happened within a few months.
Most early visitors to the shop were mental health providers with a desire to support the charity and see the operation in action.
Many also had their own stories of mental illness and spoke of the difficulty of finding help.
Marianne Bithos, president of the south suburbs division of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she believed it was important to show up for the opening to see the first-of-its-kind operation in person, and hopes the shop will not only be a positive outlet for those suffering from a mental illness but also help reduce the stigma in talking about mental health
“You can come here, you can grab a cup of coffee and go, or you can support the organization more than that too,” Boucher said. “But at the end of the day, it’s really about just having a place where people can come get coffee on a hundred good days in a row, and on day 101,” if someone needs help, “there are resources.”