As the clock turned to 9 a.m. Saturday, May 23, a group of four friends got to work at The Friendly Coffee Company, a soon-to-open Nappanee coffee shop owned and operated by veterans.
The group — which consisted of store owner and veteran Bret Beehler, store manager and veteran Kristi Dineen, Stephen Raines and Kristy Robb — goes to the shop at 251 W. Market St. almost every day to work on cleaning up the building.
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But on Saturday, they weren’t alone — they were joined by members of the community, family and friends who all wanted to help transform the dilapidated storefront into the charitable coffee shop it’s destined to become.
Friendly Coffee Company started out in March 2015 as an online-only distributor of Arabica coffee beans. The business sells a charity coffee line, and 50 percent of its net sales go to organizations such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Chicago & Michiana Five for the Homeless Inc.
Beehler had plans to look for a storefront in southern Elkhart County, but he was spurred into reality when an anonymous couple unexpectedly donated the Nappanee location to the coffee company.
However, the building needed some work before The Friendly Coffee Company could have its opening, scheduled for Labor Day.
“I think this helps tell the story of what this community is about, but it also shows what this shop is going to be.”
For a while, Beehler said people have been reaching out to him, asking when they could help out at the shop. Eventually, he decided it would be easiest to choose one cleanup day when anyone who wanted to could come by for a few hours — Saturday, May 23.
At first it was just the usual four there, but a little over an hour into their day, people started to trickle in. A few members of Nappanee EMS, friends of the four, Beehler’s family and Dineen’s dad — also a veteran — came to help out and voice their support for the shop.
Sisters Shelisha Ringer and Jessica Hochstetler heard about the cleanup day through Robb, a friend.
“I wanted to help the community,” Ringer said. “(The veterans) fought for us, so the least we can do is give back a little to them. It’s my way to give back.”
Hochstetler echoed her sister’s thoughts.
“I was born and raised here,” she said. “I want to show the community support and let everyone know we’re behind them, especially the vets.”
Ringer and Hochstetler worked with Dineen and Robb to clear piles of wood, plastic and trash out of the back of the building.
“It’s going to be beautiful,” Ringer said. “It’s nice and open, the sun’s coming in. There’s a lot of good things that are going to come to this, for veterans and for the community they served.”
Beehler said Saturday was also a chance to introduce people to Friendly Coffee Company and the community around it.
“This has become so much more than just a coffee shop, it’s helping the community,” Beehler said. “In a word, I feel so overwhelmed. I think this helps tell the story of what this community is about, but it also shows what this shop is going to be.”