New Coffee Shop Feeds the Hungry One Latté at a Time

The Rengal Brothers play latino tunes at the Union’s “Naked Stage” during their opening weekend in November. (by Erica Penunuri)

Move over Starbucks, there is a new coffee shop in town. And Union Coffee plans to serve up more than just lattés and espressos.

“For most folks, the Union will be nothing more than a great coffee shop,” said Mike Baughman, the shop’s manager. “For others we’ll be a catalyst that engages people in causes that make a difference in the world.”

The coffee pub on Dyer Street plans to help feed the hungry one cup at a time, by giving ten percent of its proceeds to North Texas Food Bank. The new hot spot, funded by the United Methodist Church, opened in November.

Ryan Isham Diolard, 22, who insisted that the Irish Créme Latte is the best on the menu, is a barista on the night shift. And although the joint isn’t exactly buzzing, he has faith.

“In the future I think Union can really make a name for itself,” said Diolard. “The environment is really kind and loving. It’s a flagship idea to really administer to the youth especially in college.”

The Union is furnished with two conference rooms, study booths, multiple tables, plenty of electrical outlets and a small wooden stage. Baughman said he hopes that the atmosphere will serve as an off-campus study haven for SMU students, and a place to “chill and hang out.”

But the coffee shop also has a priority to help the community, including the food bank. The Union’s mantra – “Coffee. Community. Cause.” – is printed on flyers that are distributed amongst the tables inside the coffee shop. The backs of the flyers read, “NAKED STAGE; True stories… no notes… bravely told.” Schedules of open mic nights, story telling nights, and live music at the Union follow the headline.

“We are very thankful for the Union,” said Kristen Sweat, the North Texas Food Bank Event Partnership Manager. “Every latté purchased, a meal will go to the food bank.”

Each semester, the Union plans to adopt a different cause. It’s starting with hunger for the spring semester. Next summer, the focus will be on natural disaster relief.

Allison Wermelskirchen, a barista at the Union, briskly punched out numbers on the cashier register one day recently.

“Ka-ching!”

“Thank you Kelley for helping feed the hungry in Dallas!” Wermelskirchen said, as she handed back the customer her change and a 12-ounce White Mocha.

Prices range from a 12-ounce latté at $2.70, to a Triple Chocolate Mocha for $4.35.

Baughman and his team taste-tested a long list of coffee beans and breweries before they selected Dillano’s, a coffee brewery that functions out of the state of Washington.

According to Baughman, the company’s coffee is ground through a process of “clean money” that protects farmers’ rights.

“All of their beans are fair trade and participate in a one harvest program,” said Baighman. “The roasters purchase the beans directly from the farmers and it cuts out the middle man.”

Phillip Dieke, a 28-year-old SMU grad student earning his Masters’ in Theological Studies, is on the Union’s Operations Board, which helped create the shop’s concept.

Dieke gazed out onto the new shop recently, his dreadlocks tucked under his Rasta styled beanie. He recalled his own college days, where hanging out in coffee shops was a part of his lifestyle.

“I went to Missouri State where there was a coffee shop where we lived all the time and I thought how cool would it be to start something like that in Dallas,” said Dieke.

The Union is a 3,850 square foot coffee shop, which is unusually large for a coffee shop. According to Dieke, the space was designed to change the coffee culture.

“A lot of people come and go with coffee. I guess that’s what businesses need in order to preserve space,” said Deike. “But we don’t want people worrying about taking up space and us having to run them off. We want them to stay and to get to know them.”

SMU junior Beionny Mickles recently sat on one of the Union’s new plush, suede chairs. The book Letters to a Young Journalist was propped up on his lap, an assignment for his journalism major. For him, homework is easier to take on at the Union.

“When I came in two people talked to me right off the bat – one of them being a person who doesn’t even work here,” said Mickles who visited the Union during its first weekend. “It beats sitting at home and doing homework. I dig the vibe.”

The sound track of the Union ranged from live music to coffee house beats. Background music included: Mumford and Sons, Jason Mraz, Coldplay, and Florence and the Machine.

The patio is complete with outdoor furniture, cloaked in thick soft blankets and plushy pillows.

“We’re planning to have s’more nights,” said Baughman. He also plans to add menu items like organic yogurt and freshly made granola.

There is one awkward empty space in the facility but Deike says they have got that covered.

“We plan to install one of those photo booths that allow you to upload your photo booth picture to Facebook, Twitter and social media immediately,” said Deike.
 

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