Not Bad Activism

Today’s whirlwind of media and pseudo activism makes it really hard to tell who is behind a business. Virtual signaling filling storefronts and social media posts aligning too perfectly with current issues are common tools businesses use to create an image of who they are, but it isn’t unusual company practices don’t align with these public cries of “Buy from us! We’re the good guys!”

 Brew 5 Points, on the other hand, with no performative activism in sight, are indeed one of the good people. Putting the needs of the community on par with the needs of employees has kept  Brew at the top of the local coffee shop showdown for years and will continue to do so given the ownership of the shop.

 Chef Calli Marie, co-owner, managing partner and baker for Brew, has a refreshing, unapologetic air about her. Calli was the first employee of Brew back in 2014, working part time as a barista. Unlike many other women who worked their way into positions of power, Calli had a supportive environment where her co-owners encouraged her to spread her wings.

 Throughout her time as an employee and the four years she has been managing partner, Calli revolutionized the shop through her baking and cooking expertise, interior design aesthetic and attention to social justice issues. With a degree from culinary school and a long history in baking Calli completely revamped the menu making everything in house, but the most lasting impact she made over the years is the way Brew presents themselves to the community.

 “I’m not trying to market our values. I think it’s very clear to see what kind of place we are when you walk in the door. I feel like shouting those things out all the time, in an Instagram post, is just not it. If you just look at all of us, it’s a very diverse group of people who are a full spectrum of sexuality and gender. I think it’s very obvious that we are in support of all of those things,” explained Calli.

 The most important part of a coffee shop is those employees you come into contact with everytime you walk in, especially for your 7am latte. Rather than having a visible disparity between employees and business values like some other shops in the area, Brew actively creates an inclusive and representative environment through who they employ and how they treat those workers. Although it’s relatively uncommon for employees working in food service to stay longer than one year, Brew has an average employee retention length of three years.

 “I want brew to be the place I wish I had when I was in college,” explained Calli. “If you need a day off, I give you the day off. We have health care, and all of those things that I didn’t have when I was in college. I was told it was just the industry and that you didn’t get (healthcare.) When I became a business owner, I asked, ‘why didn’t we get taken care of?’ and I’m glad I came into this role to be able to question the standard and change it. But it’s also the fucking bare minimum to provide these things to employees. It takes a lot of letting go to let a place really flourish. You don’t have to control everything. You have to trust yourself that you hired really good people that will also take care of your place.”

Aside from inclusivity and representation, Calli’s utmost priority is the safety of her workers. Sexual harassment and violence is more common than one would hope, especially in the food service industry. Without diving into details, local coffee shops have a reputation for employment of problematic individuals. Calli has created, and continues to create, a work space that is safe for open dialogue about the well-being of staff. She said, “I went a really long time carrying the burden of the decisions, but there’s 12 people down there that all have an opinion and all their opinions matter.”

Brew is a 5 Points staple and has no plans of leaving anytime soon. Despite talks of opening a St. Augustine location over the years, Calli is committed to her shop in 5 Points. When asked about it, she put it this way:

“Do I want to be splitting my time between here and another location and working 60 hour weeks for like a little bit more money? Or would I just like to be at Brew and be happy with the things I have. I’d rather be improving this shop, and putting my time and energy into what I already have. All of our resources and all of our time are going into this place to make it better. That’s all I’m really worried about doing right now.”

It’s refreshing to hear a business owner speak so boldly and proud of what they have, without a caveat that “it will get better with our next location, endeavor, program etc,” because Calli knows that here is as good as anywhere and the grass is only greener where you water it.


About Vincent Dalessio

Vincent Dalessio is Folio Weekly’s Head Photographer and Writer. Originally from St. Petersburg, Florida, he takes pride in resetting his roots in Duval County. Active in the skateboarding, surfing, rock climbing and outdoor recreation communities, he takes what he’s learned in his personal life and applies it to current issues facing these groups. His writing focuses on the environment, socio-demographic issues, biopics on community figureheads and stories on the communities he spends the most time in.