At first, The District on 10th Street in Downtown Boise seems like a traditional coffeehouse. There’s the airy, arty atmosphere; the handful of java sippers focused on their laptops; and the redolence of serious bean grinding.
But look a little closer.
Photographs of children cover one wall. Coffee fans have the option of donating to the shop’s “pending coffee” fund — essentially buying a cup for the next visitor without money to buy his or her own. The password for the shop’s Wi-Fi — “love is the key” — is another giveaway that something besides coffee is going on. General Manager Kate Seward’s business strategy — “our philosophy is love” — is a clue as well.
The shop is a nonprofit affiliated with Calvary Chapel, a national nondenominational church. The District’s first home was the Belgravia Building at Main and 5th Streets in Boise. It moved to its roomier space in October. A second District in the same building as the Red Letter Bookstore on Auto Drive in West Boise will close next week, said Seward, allowing Calvary to focus on its Downtownlocation. Red Letter will continue to sell religious books.
Seward said that although congregants tend to be quiet about Calvary’s charitable works, she wants to get the word out that Calvary’s missions have been active in India for 30 years. Proceeds from The District support 11 orphanages in that nation. Those photographs on the shop’s walls? Those are some of the children who live in those orphanages.
Proceeds from The District help Valley programs, too, said Seward. The District runs a six-week program that hires refugees to work in the shop. Participants learn job skills, get familiar with health codes, start to acclimate to the local community and get work experience for their resumes.
“We also do food for the hungry on the last two Saturdays of the month,” said Seward.
Calvary congregants cook meals and distribute them at Rhodes Skate Park in Boise, not far from the Corpus Christi House homeless day shelter.
Each orphan in a Calvary orphanage has a sponsor, and sponsorships cost $35 a month. Employees at The District pitch in to sponsor two orphans, collecting money they keep in a jar at the shop.
“A lot of people notice the employees’ attitudes are good and make that comment,” said Seward. “That makes me proud.”
Seward came to Calvary Treasure Valley after being a touring musician.
“My life took a 180. I found the Lord,” she said.
She started playing during Calvary worship services. She had job experience in coffeehouses and became the manager when The District opened.
“I love my job,” she said.
Religious coffeehouses dot the country. The nonprofit Greater Grace Christian coffeehouse in Fredericksburg, Texas, proclaims its unconventional and nontraditional character, catering to those who have felt alienated from organized religion. The Upper Room is a Christian coffeehouse in Rhode Island offering Bible studies, but also live bands every Saturday night.
In Nampa, a Christian coffeehouse and bookstore operated for a time. Rembrandt’s Coffee in Eagle is in a historic church; it promotes a social justice agenda and works with The Landing Community Center, a local nonprofit.
There’s no denying that religion is a strong presence at The District. In addition to the emphasis on love and generosity, two services take place there every Sunday.
But religion has a rather light hand on 10th Street. The District is a venue for the upcoming Treefort music festival. It hosts open mics. Each week’s calendar offers live music, salsa and swing-dancing lessons.
Grace McBride, a writing student at Boise State, is a District regular. She can’t do schoolwork at home because of all the distractions, so she’s made the coffeehouse rounds. Lately, she’s been favoring The District.
She doesn’t attend services but says she patronizes the shop for its community aspects.
“I went there because I knew one person,” she said. It wasn’t long before she saw more familiar faces at The District and made more friends. This was common at coffeeshops in Moscow when she studied at the University of Idaho, but is rarer in Boise, she said.
THE ART OF COFFEE
Brian Slattery moved to Boise from New York with his family 18 months ago. He works across the street from The District in the Banner Bank building at Clearwater Analytics. He’s a regular at The District. Sometimes, he and his co-workers stop in more than once a day.
He’s a spiritual person, he said, but doesn’t participate in the religious services and other activities at the shop. He likes the idea that religious people have such a comfortable, welcoming place to go, along with everyone else.
“You have to appreciate The District’s mission. It’s a unique twist on a retail shop,” he said.
For Slattery, The District is mostly about the coffee. He’s learned that he prefers pour-over coffee made with Ethiopian beans. This is a slow-brew process of pouring hot water over the grounds, coaxing out the best flavor.
“They’ve turned me into a coffee snob,” Slattery said.
The staff is serious about their “shots and milk.” The District offers free coffee tasting every First Thursday. It also goes in for “free pour latte art” in the milk foam: rosettes, swans and hearts.
“We’re as passionate about raising awareness of coffee as we are about raising awareness of our mission,” said Seward.
Anna Webb: 377-6431