Inglewood, California, is a changing Black city. From Manchester Boulevard to Market Street, you observe a city in flux, retaining its strong Black culture while changing. It just became home to the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers NFL teams. This is a gigantic new project that is speeding up gentrification in the city. The South LA hills, colorful 1950s buildings, and old people meandering along the street are all featured in Issa Rae’s Insecure. It accurately portrays the city today, despite its background, and the strength of its community is owed in part to certain Black-owned companies.
Two Black women, Shanita Nicholas and Amanda-Jane Thomas own Sip & Sonder, a coffee shop and creative studio on Market. A 600-square-foot creative studio hides behind a wall decorated with the definition of sonder: “the understanding that each random pedestrian has a life as colorful and intricate as your own—populated with their objectives, friends, habits, and worries.” The wall looks to be a modern reminder.
It is located at a confluence of numerous pandemics, a worldwide health crisis, economic consequences, and racism. But Black women-owned and run cafes, roasteries, and coffee businesses are demonstrating what it means to adapt and remain devoted to boosting our community’s overall welfare. Possibly first and foremost.
Inside Sip & Sonder, young Black creatives and neighborhood elders sat at tables and on brown leather couches, listening to Ari Lennox Radio. The studio was the focal point of the facility, according to Nicholas. “The studio’s purpose is to give a location for creatives to display their work and also develop and ideate,” she explains. Events and gatherings aimed at artistically engaging and uplifting the community ceased. Sip & Sonder, like other LA coffee businesses, had to alter operations and strategies to satisfy community demands.
During COVID, one of those changes transformed their coffee program by allowing them to roast their coffee. When Sip & Sonder originally launched in 2018, their La Marzocco Linea PB poured single origins and espresso blends from Sip & Sonder’s La Marzocco Linea PB. Now the café roasts their own. “We’re really happy to roast our own coffee,” she says, “and I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting our two house profiles.”
Espresso is made with a Papua New Guinea single origin named “South Market,” which has flavors of cedar, citrus, and caramel. They now use a natural form Sidamo, Ethiopia called “Native Daughter” for cold brew and drip. They’ve been studying the basics of roasting with Bellwether Coffee for over a year. A Bellwether roaster was acquired early in the summer, and Nicholas and Thomas have been performing all of the roastings since. (They dubbed their new roaster Sage.)
They join a growing list of Black women-owned coffee enterprises in the US, including Southeastern Roastery, Mama’s Brew Coffee, Kahawa 1893, Cute Coffee, and many more. For Nicholas and Thomas, their identities offer them greater agency to create a coffee-centered place in a Black-centered neighborhood.
“It’s odd to be considered as outsiders for something we can trace our heritage from,” Nicholas says. “This is just reclaiming something that has always been a part of who we are. This place is powerful to occupy inside the industry as a whole, as well as within the communities we’re in.”
They also know the value of investing in an empowered community. Prior to Sip & Sonder, Nicholas and Thomas were buddies practicing law in Brooklyn. As a result of their connection, they formed the LA Black Investors Club, a non-profit organization that serves as a conduit for venture formation, capitalization, and capacity building for diverse communities. “For the community,” Sip & Sonder’s main mission, was born. Culture.”
Sip & Sonder has excelled in this position over the previous two years, and now more than ever. Voter registration applications are available at Sip & Sonder’s walk-up window as we approach a possibly historic presidential election. Registration and free cold brew were offered during a “Sip & Vote” event in August.
Nicholas and Thomas have made it a goal, with each other’s aid, to concentrate their own welfare while running a hospitality business and helping and elevating the Inglewood community. “We worked every day early in COVID, but it was unsustainable,” Nicholas adds. What is our solution? How can we both survive and prosper?”
This is critical in light of the “strong Black woman” cliché, which implies Black women can accomplish everything and everything for everyone. Lessons gained by Sip & Sonder: fill your own coffee cup before filling others’. “Bad habits have been established in us for years since we used to work in corporate America,” adds Thomas. “The sense of urgency—we consciously have to say ‘no, we’re not doing that.’ We need to plan for some downtime if we have XYZ on our plate.”
For them, it means monitoring email responses, scheduling morning yoga sessions, or taking a day off. Nicholas and Thomas’ regard for one other as business partners and friends is at the core of their prioritizing their mental, emotional, and physical wellness. “No Sip & Sonder if we don’t keep our health,” adds Thomas. “There is no growth or even maintenance. That’s not it. And it needs to be ongoing, not one-off.”
This is the blueprint. Black women have never doubted their ability to maintain themselves and their communities economically, spiritually, or otherwise. It’s easy to imagine a new normal based on self-interest when places like Sip & Sonder already exist. While it may appear that we are drifting more apart from each other as we continue to isolate, we are becoming more conscious of the intricacies of our lives. Now more than ever, we can ensure no one’s cup goes dry.