Ever since I started college two years ago, I’ve seen the same homeless people walking around Main Street day after day. When I came back to school for the fall semester, and heard that my favorite study spot Brewed Awakenings had gotten a new owner, J.D. Willetts, my first thought was “I wonder what kind of food and drinks they’re going to add to the menu!” When I went there upon returning, however, imagine how pleased I was when I saw the two homeless men sitting at the tables, reading the newspaper, and enjoying a cup of coffee. I thought it was extraordinary how Brewed Awakenings was so kind to them, and welcomes them into the shop as they do every other customer.
Willetts has turned Brewed Awakenings into an environment where students and Newark residents, including the homeless community, can come to feel “safe, accepted, and not judged.” Sitting next to the register is a Community Cup, where customers can leave their spare change, so people who can’t afford a cup of coffee or a bite to eat can purchase a drink or meal. “Us caring for one another is a big piece of what I’m after,” says Willetts. According to him, the Community Cup has turned out better than he expected, and he’s very happy that students’ generosity is allowing him to feed members of the community in need.
Willetts supports the community in ways beyond the Community Cup. Just across the street is the Newark Empowerment Center, a church-group that feeds the homeless in the area. Willetts often donates bagels to the group and encourages people there to stop by the café for a free meal. He also gives local artists the opportunity to hang their artwork in the shop, which customers can purchase if interested.
Willetts takes home none of the profit that the coffee shop makes. All of Brewed Awakenings’ profit is used to pay employees, or goes back into the restaurant. “All of my energy gets put here,” Willetts said, “and my family has made some adjustments.” For the past twenty-two years, Willetts has owned a counseling center and is also a pastor. Buying the coffee shop was his way of fulfilling his dream to create an environment for community members to gather and relax.
Looking forward, Willetts encourages students to bring their friends to the shop. He understands that college students are usually broke, and allows them to use the Community Cup, too. He welcomes any ideas that students have to expand Brewed Awakenings’ impact on the community. As for the menu, he’s added quesadillas, and plans to add paninis, late-night munchies, and more vegetarian options in the future.