During the pandemic, Necessary and Sufficient Coffee (3624 W. Wrightwood Ave.) has been inspiring neighbors and helping them support one another. The coffee shop’s latest program, Cafe Sospeso, exemplifies this idea through a cup of coffee purchased for a stranger.
What is a “sospeso,” you ask? A “caffe sospeso” (note, sospeso is not spelled Sospresso as tempting as it may be) is an Italian tradition born in of the working-class neighborhoods of Naples. An individual who had recently experienced good fortune would essentially buy two coffees but consume only one, leaving a “caffe sospeso,” or “suspended coffee,” for someone to redeem in the future. That might be someone falling on hard times or unable to pay for coffee that day. There is much debate on how old the tradition is. Still, the Italian custom has had multiple resurgences in the coffee world during recessions, and alas, the pandemic has inspired much-needed sospesos in our own neighborhood.
“We are cashless now and didn’t want to discriminate against people without credit, so we ramped up our Cafe Sospeso card program when we went cashless. The program started with an anonymous donation of $100 from one Logan Square resident and was followed by an additional $50 from Lori Lightfoot’s wife, Amy, who donated at our walk-up window,” said Necessary and Sufficient owner, Kate Vrijmoet.
“We got you covered!” is what you will hear from the baristas at Necessary and Sufficient when the program is needed to cover a coffee. The shop hopes this act of kindness from one neighbor to another is contagious, often leveraging the program for new customers who are unaware the cafe is cashless or who can’t afford a coffee.
“The program is a win, win, win,” said Vrijmoet. “The business wins because people are paying full price for their coffee. The community wins because they have access to a great product. After all, they don’t have credit or money. The consumer wins because it’s a good feeling when paying it forward. The cashier feels great to be able to offer a paid-for coffee to another neighbor, too.” To date, the program has donated $1,000 worth of coffees to neighbors in need of a sospeso. To donate sospesos to neighbors, you can add a coffee to your next order at the window or donate on the Joe Coffee app.
As a result of opening their doors just before COVID hit, the living art installation/coffee shop has continually adapted to the needs of the community during this challenging time. At the same time, the shop aims to deliver on its greater mission to wake people up to each other and create a place for neighbors to meet one another while waiting in line for coffee.
Vrijmoet, an artist, creative problem solver and certified adaptable leader, is constantly innovating and doesn’t shy away from the sospeso partnership as a way to expand the reach and footprint of the coffee shop’s mission to support neighbors. At the start of the pandemic, the cafe provided groceries and food baskets, distributing them through local mutual aid programs. Additionally, the coffee shop reached out to the Chamber of Commerce to become a fiscal sponsor for a coffee donation program that ran earilier this year to support health care workers, death care workers, and first responders called “Caffeinate the Caretakers.” The Chamber of Commerce facilitated donations for the program, and then funds were distributed to participating coffee shops, including Sip of Hope (3039 W. Fullerton Ave.). Under this initiative, any caretaker in need of coffee could walk up to Sip of Hope or Necessary & Sufficient from Jan. 4 through Feb. 28 and receive a free coffee or redeem it on the Joe Coffee app.
To keep baristas safe during the pandemic and protect their livelihood, Necessary and Sufficient went contactless with customers and created a healthy airflow environment for employees, Vrijmoet said. The shop also launched a program called Breaks for Baristas to protect staff tips should an employee need to quarantine due to COVID or take sick leave, covering both the workers’s income from the stimulus they received from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act as well as income from tips.
When asked whether the cafe has achieved its mission amid the backdrop of the pandemic, Vrijmoet shared the following stories to share from neighbors:
“A neighbor who lives behind me said, ‘I am delighted to have the café there and met some neighbors I had never had the chance to meet.’ I was so excited to hear this, as our walk-up storefront allows people to connect and stop othering each other.”
“This past Wednesday, a customer shared that she had taken her daughter to the playground only to discover it was closed. ‘That’s disappointing. So many things have been disappointing this year,’ the mother said. Her daughter replied, ‘Except for the coffee shop we go to on the corner. They are never disappointing.'”
To support your neighbors by sending a sospeso, you can visit the walk-up window at Necessary and Sufficient or donate on the Joe Coffee app.