Brewed Awakenings: Using coffee to build community
Brewed Awakenings owner and long-time Newark resident J.D. Willetts doesn’t “really care that much about coffee.”
Tucked between the National 5 & 10 and Qdoba, Brewed Awakenings has been a staple of Main Street for 22 years. It only recently fell into Willetts’ hands, and he decided that rather than focusing on profit, he would aim to better Newark by giving residents a secure space where they can spend their free time.
Before he purchased the shop from its previous owners two years ago, Willetts was working as a family and relationship psychologist. This career lasted 25 years, but he wanted to make a larger impact.
“My point isn’t coffee,” he says. “It’s community.”
While his employees get paid, Willetts does not draw a salary and uses volunteers to fill in when his paid help is unavailable or when he cannot attend events himself.
Willetts’ 18-year-old son, Ethan, is one of these volunteers, and said he doesn’t mind not getting paid.
“It’s a lot of fun getting to meet different people,” he says.
The shop isn’t run like a traditional business, but rather as a nonprofit organization. Aside from employee salaries and upkeep, Willetts pours any extra profit back into the community.
Right now he’s working on an idea that would task the university’s art students with painting a mural on the side of his building.
“We’ll have both an activity for them, as well as hopefully [making] the city look a little better,” he says.
Another way Willetts gives back to the community is through the jar filled with paper slips on his front counter. Each colorful slip has a positive quote or picture drawn on it and represents a cup of coffee that a restaurant patron has purchased ahead of time, typically for a person in need.
This “community cup” program is something that Willetts wanted to do even before he purchased Brewed Awakenings.
“I didn’t want people who couldn’t afford a coffee shop to feel like they couldn’t be here,” he says. “I wanted everybody to feel welcome.”
Willetts is also the pastor of a small church called Abide, and he considers everybody who comes into his shop to be part of his congregation. While he considers himself a non-denominational Christian, he welcomes people of any religion, or lack thereof, to stop by and grab a cup of coffee.
“My mission that I’ve been called to is not to tell people, ‘clean up your act and come to church’ and ‘look a certain way and dress a certain way or act a certain way,’” he says. “It is my responsibility to love and respect people the way they are.”
Willetts specified that he is not trying convert anybody — in fact, he encourages people to come into the shop and teach him about their own beliefs.
“I want a safe place where people can come and explore whatever,” he says. “You are free to be here and be who you are.”