Local coffee shop operates solely on volunteersBy Emma Cary | 11/29/2017 9:18pm
By Emma Cary | Contributing Writer
Charis Patrick makes time in her schedule for Nehemiah’s Coffee House.
On top of being a junior majoring in secondary education and language arts, she works an on-campus job at the SupeStore. Like most college students, obligations fill her schedule. Yet, she piles on more with her choice to volunteer each Sunday behind the counter at Nehemiah’s Coffee House.
Tucked between a quiet Tuscaloosa neighborhood and Forest Baptist Church, Nehemiah’s Coffee House does not, like most coffee shops, have paid employees. Its workers are all volunteers. No one who works behind the counter receives a paycheck. And, despite busy schedules, most of the volunteers are college students.
“I keep coming back because in such a busy culture, Nehemiah’s reminds me to slow down,” Patrick said, smiling and pointing to a friend at the adjacent table. “Plus, I love the friends I get to work with.”
Forest Lake Baptist Church owns Nehemiah’s, located adjacent to the church. Head Pastor Donald Payne said he was called to open a business that would minister to college students in the community. Over time and with much prayer, Payne said, it became clear to him that God wanted him to open a coffee shop. Just after purchasing the building in April 2011, however, the infamous Tusacloosa tornadoes tore over it and shook its foundation.
Where there was once that damaged building now stands a stout brick coffee house. The tornadoes stormed directly through the Forest Lake Baptist Church properties, leaving much destruction in their wake. But the aftermath of the storm gave church members the opportunity to initiate construction on Nehemiah's.
Nehemiah’s Coffee House opened in May of 2012, just over a year after the tornadoes, and recently celebrated its fifth year of business. To its owners, the coffee shop symbolizes the provision of God.
"It’s a lot bigger than it would have been before the tornado because we were able to rebuild its foundation," said Alicia Cook, the manager at Nehemiah's. "With that, we got to design it exactly how we wanted to from the ground up."
Nehemiah’s gets its name from the story of Nehemiah in the Bible. In the story, Nehemiah was a cup bearer to the king of Israel. King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the walls and gates around the city of Jerusalem, necessary for the safety and security of the city, decades earlier. The story goes on to say that with God’s help, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls around the city in only 52 days.
Payne was preaching from the book of Nehemiah around the time of the tornado. It seemed fitting to name the coffee house Nehemiah’s. As Nehemiah served as the cup bearer to the king, the church wanted the coffee shop to serve as a cup bearer to the city.
According to the Nehemiah's website, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls and gates around the city of Jerusalem in only 52 days, and Forest Lake Baptist Church rebuilt its broken building that would become the coffee shop in 52 weeks.
Brittany Kent has been a volunteer for Nehemiah’s since almost its very beginning. She volunteered throughout college while pursuing a degree in sports medicine and continues to volunteer now, even though she has a very busy schedule that includes a full-time job at Encore Rehabilitation Center, serving on staff at Forest Lake Baptist Church as the missions coordinator and taking seminary classes in Birmingham once a week.
“It was [an] avenue for me when I was in college when I was really stressed," Kent said. "It was a home-away-from-home. And when you love something, you make sacrifices for it.”
Nehemiah’s Coffee House aims to have an open atmosphere and serve as a home for all people.
“I think if you’re looking for a space to be you, it’s a good place to be," Kent said. It’s not a typical coffee shop. You can tell when you leave that you’re leaving a place where people really know you and care about you.”