Businesses are opening and entrepreneurship is on the rise in the IndyEast Promise Zone. The Buy IndyEast Promise Zone goal states that, “We promise to create healthy commercial corridors that provide desirable neighborhood goods, services and amenities that serve our residents and become a regional destination for shopping, dining, and recreation.” Rabble Coffee began as an empty storefront in the summer of 2015, and has grown into a great place to get coffee and an important point of connection in the community. The existence of this kind of space allowed for one of the newest businesses on the Near Eastside to develop; Proverbial Grounds tapped into the vitality of Rabble and a unique partnership was formed. Josie Hunckler, owner at Rabble, and Francis Krug, owner at Proverbial Grounds, sat down with us to talk about how this partnership developed, how it works, and what they look forward to in the future.
“I started working in coffee when I was fifteen,” says Josie Hunckler. Over the years, she’s gained professional experience while working her way through college, always with the ultimate goal of opening a community coffee shop. She recognizes the role that a coffee shop can play in helping connect people and ideas. She also knows the importance of getting the best coffee beans for your shop to make people want to come back for more. Josie is adamant about recognizing the role that others have played in helping Rabble exist and become successful. This seems to be the dream of many people these days, with coffee shops becoming more and more popular. Coffee shops look like the perfect investment, however, it’s never that easy. Whilst some coffee shops, like Rabble, become successful, others won’t. As Rabble seems to have a USP, that may be the reason behind its success. It can be difficult to find a differentiating factor in a coffee shop, meaning that business can be limited. Although, not many people seem to know about owning coffee franchises. This way might be more viable and profitable, however, this can depend on initial funding. It’s important to explore options, especially if you’ve always wanted to work with coffee as Josie has.
“My sister, Kindra Hunckler, and her husband, Jon Nolen, residents of the Near Eastside for over fifteen years (first on Tacoma, now on Woodruff Place W.) helped me with a loan to try to start my first business. It was important to them that a proper replacement was found for their former community coffee shop of 2 years, The Tin Comet. I had been planning and talking about running or creating a community coffee shop for several years. So we decided to try.” With family support and the significant contributions of those who work alongside her, Rabble has grown into a Near Eastside staple. Selling sustainable coffee can be hugely beneficial to the planet and the caffeine farmers, this is why coffee shops need to do more sustainability in their businesses to help out others and create a better world for all involved.
Francis Krug moved from Greenwood to Woodruff Place on the Near Eastside last June. The move brought him closer to downtown where he was spending most of his time while working from Indy’s Kitchen. The move also brought him into a community in which he could put his ideas about reciprocity and plant-based food into practice. Francis launched Proverbial Grounds last year.
“My intention was not to necessarily open up a brick and mortar,” Krug says. “It was to collaborate with other businesses and bring the perspective of the whole-food plant-based options into menus that may be looking for expansion. Also focusing on the pay-it-forward aspect and developing an understanding of how it works, and creating an identity that fits with that space rather than trying to force my perspective on how it should work.”
A common desire to create positive change wove these two entrepreneurs and their businesses together. Josie and Francis are social entrepreneurs – business owners who are not only conscious of the needs of their community, but determined to meet those needs through ethical, sustainable, and targeted business practices. In other words, they aren’t simply driven by profit, but by people and community.
Josie had a desire to bring affordable, healthy food to the people who visited Rabble and to those who just needed a warm meal. She started by making homemade quiche and deli style sandwiches, but with only one person working the coffee bar at a time, taking the time to put together a sandwich was too cumbersome, especially with a line of customers waiting to get their coffee and go.
Francis had a desire to bring affordable food to people by partnering with businesses that valued the needs and health of the community over catering to the wealthiest demographic. He got to know Josie, and set up a business meeting to see the possibility of partnering Proverbial Grounds with Rabble.
Their values and ideas about social entrepreneurship worked comfortably, and the supply Proverbial Grounds provided fit the demand Rabble needed perfectly. They collaborated to create menu items so that Proverbial Grounds now makes healthy, affordable meal sized burritos that the baristas at Rabble just heat up and serve hot on a plate to hungry customers.
But Josie and Francis didn’t stop there. Through ideas gleaned from news articles and shows, Francis became attached to the idea of ‘pay-it-forward’ systems of philanthropy at the local level. As the affluence of an area increases, there is an opportunity to tap into new financial resources and the philanthropic spirit of a community in order to rectify inequality. Pay-it-forward systems allow that philanthropic exchange to happen as part of the community’s day-to-day interactions. Francis and Josie agreed that Rabble would make a perfect geographic location for a pay-it-forward system to begin.
Here’s how it works:
- Any customer coming in to Rabble pays for their coffee or food;
- At checkout they have the opportunity to pay for additional coffee or food to go into a ‘bank’;
- Any other customer can tap into that bank to get a coffee or food free of charge.
So, on a day when I’m a couple dollars short, I can go into Rabble, and if there’s a coffee coin in the pay-it-forward jar, I can use that coffee coin to get a coffee at no cost to me.
Conversely, on a generous pay-day, I can go into Rabble, buy myself a coffee, and use some of my extra cash to buy a coffee coin to put in the pay-it-forward jar for someone else to use. Same goes for the burritos. This system operates on a no questions asked basis, meaning there are no qualifications that entitle or prevent anyone from using it.
On top of that, Proverbial Grounds uses leftover food orders to make bowls of plant-based food that are sent to Rabble’s pay-it-forward system. This means that even if there aren’t any coins in the jar, there may be a bowl of food available for someone who needs it. These practices help to break down the differences that typically occur in changing neighborhoods.
Pay-it-Forward at Rabble began in December of 2017. As of February, Josie and Francis are both satisfied with the response the program has received from the community, as well as the number of people able to take part in a hot meal or coffee at no cost to them. People are meeting each other at the same level in the same space despite their differences. However, Josie says that, “scarcity is higher than the generosity.” After making a Facebook post answering ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ concerning the program, the number of pay-it-forward donations increased significantly, but they leveled off after a while. She thinks the more that people are in the store seeing the system work, she will see an increase in the number of donations.
When asked what success looks like for them, Josie and Francis had similar answers:
Josie: Success for me looks like my staff and I living above the poverty line while maintaining the integrity of the mission of our business. All of us…The goal is to have it be an option for everyone to make this their living and not have another job. And not be working for typical coffee shop wages. I’ve always wanted to run a coffee shop with full-time employees, not just have a bunch of part-time employees that get paid crummy amounts of money. I really want to get to a place where everybody can have health insurance who works for me. That’s success for me.
Francis: As we were talking about people our age, people who may identify as millennials, one of the things that’s changing about the definition of success is the minimalism that’s coming. Our desires are really just to ask for everyone to have enough. But what’s ironic about that is that the request for all of your staff to have enough seems like a lot to ask for, even though it’s not when compared to larger business models… For me it’s a little bit different; right now I work at midnight in a kitchen downtown. So for my staff and myself to be able to work regular hours and not have to sacrifice [that time], as well as being able to supply livable wages, even providing health insurance.
Francis and Josie are true social entrepreneurs, offering ethical and sustainable services with a humanitarian angle. The Near Eastside is a community that increasingly demands responsible and involved business ventures, and is happy to reward those, like Josie and Francis, who connect with the community at the human level.
These are the kinds of partnerships that can help shape the character and destiny of a community. The IndyEast Promise Zone highlights these kinds of stories because they principally involve individuals sharing ideas, making connections, and partnering to elevate themselves, their businesses, and their community. Rabble and Proverbial Grounds, Josie and Francis, are helping fulfill the goals of our Buy IndyEast goal area just by being active, involved residents and business owners. They have a lot to share with other communities on the Eastside and around Indianapolis, and we are excited to learn from them and support them in their next ventures.
Rabble Coffee is open Monday – Friday 7 AM – 6 PM, Saturday 8 AM – 6 PM, and Sunday from 8 AM – 3 PM. They are located at 2119 E. 10th Street. Parking available curbside and around the back! Also, check out their Facebook page and Instagram feed.
Proverbial Grounds has a variety of services available – business and wedding catering, weekly menu creation, eight-week plant-based food program, and more! Visit their website to get all the details ? www.ProverbialGrounds.com