A two-woman team of attorneys is now arguing on behalf of community, Black culture and fresh, high-quality coffee in Inglewood, California, through their coffee business, Sip & Sonder.
After COVID-19 forced the shop’s closing just one month before its first anniversary this past spring, the shop reopened over the summer. The business recently expanded with the launch of a roasting operation.
Co-owners Amanda-Jane Thomas and Shanita Nicholas told Daily Coffee News that while roasting was always part of the plan, the sudden change in the commercial landscape added some urgency. Thus, the shop’s new Bellwether roasting system came online in August.
The 1,800-square-foot Sip & Sonder location includes the coffee house, roastery and an events/performance space. The warm, open and industrial environment was designed to inspire creativity and collaboration against a backdrop of artwork, including a mural on one wall that reflects the Los Angeles highway system and a collection of works from artist Patrick Eugéne.
“While the two of us started roasting initially, we have brought on the support of members of our team,” Nicholas told Daily Coffee News. “We not only care about the quality of our coffee profile, but also the quality of life of the people involved in making it. Through direct trade, we know the stories of the people and communities our coffees come from and are able to offer a product that is premium in taste and [in] social responsibility.”
With a law degree and M.B.A from Columbia University, Nicholas has practiced law with corporate startups and venture capital firms. Thomas, whose J.D. comes from Harvard Law, has focused largely on the financial service industries, intellectual property and commercial litigation.
While both founders continue to practice law, their passions have extended to coffee — especially coffee’s potential as a conduit for global community engagement through responsible sourcing.
Beans currently come from Bellwether’s marketplace, and Sip & Sonder will be rolling out a “Tip The Farmer” program this month. At the same time, the team is actively building direct trade relationships independent of the Bellwether system to expand upon a program they called the Sip & Sonder Black Coffee Experience.
“As Black women in the specialty coffee industry, we have a deep appreciation for the fact that most of the world’s coffee originates from the labor of black and brown people,” Thomas told DCN. “We have noticed a drop-off in Black ownership as we look up the supply chain to end consumers. Access to education, resources and capital are required for addressing these issues.”
Nicholas noted that while Sip & Sonder has seen some positive impact on its revenues from the recent uptick of popular support for Black-owned businesses, the scales of racial and gender equality will remain unbalanced in the coffee industry and in society at large until greater and longer-term systemic changes are achieved.
“We encourage the general public to not see this as a passing fad, but as a sustaining effort to support Black products, Black services and Black people,” said Thomas, who considers her and Nicholas’ very existence as Black women owners in the coffee industry as a political act. “Sip & Sonder takes its tagline ‘For the Community, For the Culture,’ pretty seriously. To that effect, we have supported programming individually and with partners for voting registration, economic empowerment and community engagement. We are currently planning a flex voting event within the coffee shop to provide additional access to the democratic process to our community.”
Sip & Sonder is now open at 108 S. Market St. in Inglewood, California.
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.