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Saturday, June 15, 2024
The Observer

Scene in South Bend: The Local Cup

JOSEPH HAN | The Observer
JOSEPH HAN | The Observer

“Understanding others” — the most valuable lesson barista Mariano Gomez of The Local Cup has learned in serving coffee to the community. A five-minute drive from Notre Dame, The Local Cup is a quaint, simple coffee shop attended by warm, welcoming people seeking to foster community in the Near Northwest Neighborhood (NNN). Entirely volunteer-run, the The Local Cup uses a pay-it-forward method for every customer. If you walk in and cannot afford a cup, you will be served coffee for free and without judgement. You pay what you can, and those who can pay cover the charge of their neighbor’s cup — a gesture of charity that builds community.

What differentiates The Local Cup from your average coffee shop is its dedication to serving and promoting the people of the neighborhood. Flyers about the upcoming job fair, talent nights featuring local performers, church gatherings and the community mural project cover the front door of the shop. On top of the coffee bar rests more flyers promoting service events run by St. Mary’s students and the neighborhood’s Urban Garden Farmers Market. Inside, the walls of the shop are coated by beautiful, available-to-purchase paintings created by local artist David Allen. The ceilings are lined with every street name in the neighborhood. A local neighbor bakes the shop’s treats once a week. A quote on the importance of charity is written every day on a large chalkboard. The Local Cup encourages members of the community to showcase their talents through live entertainment. Local musicians and artists occasionally drop in, and even the Moreau seminarians have played at The Local Cup. Gomez admits he has played the guitar and the mandolin for the shop.

The concept of The Local Cup stems from the hearts and minds of the diverse citizens of the NNN. Aware of the neighborhood’s range of backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses, the members of this community established NNN Inc., which enacts community-building initiatives through neighborhood projects. When a few neighbors had the idea of creating The Local Cup, the community responded with a group effort that transformed an old office area into the cozy neighborhood hangout spot. The Local Cup has become a weekend gathering place for neighbors and strangers alike. Gomez, a senior at Holy Cross who has volunteered at the shop since his sophomore year, says that on Sundays — their busiest days — the shop fills with families, long-time residents of the neighborhood and new faces.

Directly connected to the NNN Inc. offices, The Local Cup offers free, next-door parking and indoor/outdoor seating. Upon walking in, you are greeted with friendly smiles and hellos. Furnished with plenty of communal tables, chairs and cushy seats, the space feels open yet intimate. Customers congregate with friends, and others study silently in a nearby chair. At the back of the shop, a surprisingly large outdoor wood patio is decorated with flowers and more tables. The actual coffee bar only takes up a small corner of the shop, maximizing the area for social gathering. Unlike your typical Starbucks with a galore of drink options, the Local Cup’s menu is simple yet sufficient — six coffee drinks, hot chocolate, teas and a seasonal drink, the current being cider. Brewed from local coffee brands, Zen Cafe and Bendix, the coffee is smooth, strong and delicious. I ordered and loved the “wings of coffee,” but the most popular are “the duke,” a drink one-half coffee and one-half caramel flavor, and the “sweet Sunday,” a coffee flavored with chocolate and vanilla. The Local Cup also occasionally offers baked goods, including a variety of cookies and scones.

Best of all, the community supports everything The Local Cup stands for. According to Gomez, The Local Cup serves as the “center-point” for all the people of the NNN. It is a place to relax and catch up with others, and a place where great things are accomplished. The customers I spoke with all admired the charity and hospitality offered by The Local Cup. Gomez has noticed that everything that goes on in The Local Cup is for the betterment of the neighborhood — which has inspired public icons like Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to stop in for a visit. While exciting, Gomez takes most delight in serving the neighborhood’s regulars, who he has come to know well. By using the pay-it-forward method, it is no secret that The Local Cup relies on neighborhood participation for survival. Gomez explains that the shop is very “wary of our costs” and tries to be as minimalist when possible. He sees this approach as key to their success — creating an atmosphere rooted in charity and understanding that makes people want to help their community.

For a place that embodies the values of Notre Dame, The Local Cup is surprisingly poorly attended by Notre Dame students. Gomze attributes this to the fact that coffee is available to students on-campus and to the fact that The Local Cup is not widely advertised. But, in talking with the other customers there and from my own experience, I can attest that The Local Cup is truly a unique place where something as simple as coffee brings people together. Whether you want to work as a barista and develop your “social entrepreneurial” skills or just stop in for coffee, The Local Cup will surely provide you with a newfound perspective on what it means to be part of a community.

The Local Cup fall hours (September 1-December 10) are Thursday 6-9pm, Friday & Saturday 9am-1pm, Sunday 1pm-4pm. The Local Cup is located at 1009 Portage Avenue South Bend, IN 46116. Like TheLocalCupSB on Facebook and follow localcupsb on Instagram. If you are interested in volunteering or want to learn more, email