A cup of coffee is never just a cup of coffee.
Sure, it’s good for the person who drinks it, and hopefully it does some good for the people who grew and harvested the beans, wherever in the world they may be. Now, The Monkey & The Elephant is endeavoring to make making coffee something that is just as good for the people who brew it here in Philadelphia.
To the average wi-fi seeker, it looks like any other coffee shop. But it’s not.
In 2008, Lisa Miccolis traveled to South Africa where she befriended Ephraim, an orphaned Zimbabwean refugee who, at 16, was eligible to receive food, shelter, and education assistance from a local organization. But when he turned 18 all of that went away and he was forced to return to Zimbabwe.
Back in the U.S., Miccolis found that this same reality of aging out of a support system is all to common for young people in foster care. A former coffee shop manager, she envisioned a business that could, through retail operations, provide an integrated program of support and job training to youths aging out of Philadelphia’s foster care system.
The Monkey & The Elephant opened on Girard Avenue in Brewerytown in February. To the average wi-fi seeker, it looks like any other coffee shop. A shady garden, cozy seats, and a menu of coffee drinks, tea, and snacks make it a comfortable place to meet a friend or work for an hour or two.
But the people behind the counter make it special. A team of youths signed on for an 8-month program to help them make the transition into adulthood, while simultaneously working in a job that can be the foundation for a thriving career.
They close the shop early for a night every other week to share a meal and connect with one another, but founder Miccolis is adamant that her goal is not to recreate the system, but to offer participants practical skills within the context of a supportive community.
“It’s not my goal to create coffee professionals as much as it is to use this space of the shop to build a much broader community network,” Miccolis says. “[I] hope that once our youth have completed this program they’ll still come back for peer mentoring. So far, it’s working.”