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Coffee with a purpose

Fishers coffee house helps provide clean water to people

A young boy carries a yellow jerry can of water on his head from the new well in Nigeria. (Photo provided by Debbie Zancanaro)

A young boy carries a yellow jerry can of water on his head from the new well in Nigeria. (Photo provided by Debbie Zancanaro)

By Brianna Kudisch | Echo 

At the heart of it, coffee creates community.

At least that’s what Rob Touchstone, co-founder of The Well Coffeehouse, thought when he wrote a theological paper for his master’s degree at Lipscomb University. The paper he wrote led to an idea: designing a space that allowed people to interact with the Church outside of the building’s physical walls.

“We’re not trying to replace the Church but to be the Church in a different kind of way—through the intersection of faith, culture, business and community,” Touchstone said.

Dreamt up by Touchstone and friends, The Well Coffeehouse opened five years ago in Green Hills, Tennessee. Their goal was to supply people in third-world countries with access to clean water by creating a community space for people to gather and drink coffee. A third location recently opened up in Fishers, Indiana this past August.

The nonprofit coffee shop donates nearly all its profits to organizations that provide clean water, such as Blood:Water. They reserve some earnings for necessary expenses like paying baristas and rent. As a result, The Well has helped create over 15 wells, that serve thousands of communities across Kenya, Togo and Malawi, among many other countries.

Creating a coffee shop named after wells came from a biblically inspired concept of community. “(Wells were) a place where everybody met, so a modern day community is kind of built around coffee shops,” Director of Operations Katie Rose said.

In order to be the successful missional coffee house The Well wanted to be, its founders focused on what makes a coffee shop lucrative: quality coffee. Rose acknowledged that although people may support The Well’s mission and visit once, they wouldn’t return if they didn’t enjoy a good cup of coffee.

From roasting their own beans to hiring dedicated baristas to hosting latte art competitions, The Well seeks to establish a reputation for quality coffee. Baristas at the Nashville locations have two-hour training sessions each month that help them develop specific tasting notes in coffee.

At all-staff meetings, baristas go through smell testing; baristas differentiate notes within the coffee flavor from cups with raw ingredients in them, like a vanilla bean or an orange. “When you say vanilla, everyone thinks of the idea of vanilla frosting, really sweet, but if you actually sniff a vanilla bean, it’s not sweet,” Rose said.

After the Green Hills location opened and achieved success, developers approached the founders about opening another location. As a result, a second location opened in Brentwood, Tennessee in 2014.

Debbie and Tony Zancanaro, who stopped by the Brentwood location, started talking about opening one up in Indiana because they loved the company’s mission. They decided to place one in the Fishers area, which opened up last August.

The Fishers location has not only supported installing wells in third-world countries, but has also focused on helping people get clean water in the U.S. A Navajo reservation sprawls across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, and some of the people living on the reservation lack access to clean water.

According to Debbie Zancanaro, the ground on the reservation is contaminated with uranium from mining to make nuclear bombs during World War II. As a result, people use outhouses and receive clean water only once a month. A Navajo woman drives a water tank by their homes after filling it up with water from the single working well on the reservation. The people then bring out whatever they own that can hold the clean water.

“This impacts their health, both the diseases that (come) from living with outhouses, but also they don’t drink water, because they don’t want (to) ‘waste’ it drinking it, so they drink pop,” Debbie Zancanaro said. “And so all the kids lose their teeth.”

To combat these health problems, the Fishers store donates some of its profits to Dig Deep, an organization in California that supplies Navajo reservations with indoor plumbing and access to clean water.

The Well seeks to not only provide clean water but also minister to people in its own community. Touchstone leads a “public-style church service” in the Green Hills location every Sunday. “It’s designed for people who would never typically walk into a church building,” he said. “We’ve seen atheists, agnostics, people from other religions and people on the verge of suicide give their lives to Jesus through this.”

The Well’s founders plan to open two more locations: one near Lipscomb University in Nashville and another one in Bellevue in Nashville, both opening this year. The Well is taking off, but the founders are careful not to grow too quickly. They want to focus on wholesale business too—letting people buy The Well’s coffee for their church or business, and setting up a fundraising system.

“I think sometimes (companies) grow too fast and then they lose a little bit of their identity in that,” Rose said. “So we want to just make sure that we’re pouring into our employees and customers as much, and make sure we’re not spread too thin.”

Regardless of the specifics of The Well’s future, its mission remains the same: creating a space for people to belong.

“Metaphorically and even quite literally, we like to say the table is always open,” Touchstone said. “There is always a seat for one more. We designed The Well to break down barriers, create inclusive space, and to love people unconditionally.”

For more information, go to www.wellcoffeehouse.com or visit the Fishers location at 8890 E. 116th Street.

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