Love Coffee Micah Baker

Food service manager Micah Baker previously worked as a chef at Stephens College and The Broadway before leaving to start Love Coffee.

Love Coffee promotes grace and acceptance one scone at a time. The Columbia, Missouri, café employs people with intellectual and developmental differing abilities and other barriers to employment, who learn not only cooking but also social and life skills on the job.

The brainchild of local businessman and philanthropist Chuck Crews, the nonprofit coffee shop opened in early 2020. While it offers hot drinks and artisan baked goods, plus hearty plates of Belgian waffles and pot roast sandwiches, food service manager Micah Baker explains that you won’t find what truly makes this place special on the menu.

What informs the menu at Love Coffee? I’ve spent my whole life in professional kitchens. My first real job was at an iconic, small-town bakery called The Home Dairy in upstate New York. I went on to cook for a sorority at Cornell University, and when I moved to Missouri almost 10 years ago, I served as head pastry chef of Stephens College. [More recently] I was head pastry chef of The Broadway [a hotel in downtown Columbia]; I left that post to start Love Coffee but still cook on the line from time to time. I was trained in artisan methods, and that’s our mentality [at Love Coffee]: simple ingredients and simple methods produce incredible products. That approach works well for our employees because they can focus on repetition and consistency. We make everything from scratch – our breakfast, lunch, baked goods, even our salad dressing. My inspiration comes from my 18 years of experience, but I always come back to artisan methods.

What’s the vibe like in the kitchen? The kitchen crew is my second family. We laugh and cry together; we laugh so hard we cry. We use a commissary kitchen that’s generously provided by the Missouri United Methodist Church. We go into the kitchen at 5pm and work through the night, then drop off the baked goods [at Love Coffee] when people are leaving the bars. We just have a good time together, baking and learning new recipes. Our dough person – a gentle giant – is a veteran. He laminates dough for croissants for hours every night, [and] he just wants to have a good time with his people, he says, so we come in, blast some music and bake.

How does Love Coffee benefit its employees with differing abilities? Many of them have never cooked or lived by themselves. They’re learning great life skills like money and time management, plus knife skills, pan-cooking skills and the science of baking. You get a lot more out of making soup from scratch [than you do] opening a can of soup. Our dishwasher, Tomas, has visual impairments, and he’s a better dishwasher than most dishwashers I’ve worked with. Just having the opportunity to work really blesses our employees, [and] working together is also beneficial for them. When you like who you work with, you love coming to work. At the café, we have a cashier, a barista, a cook and a food runner, and we try to place our employees where they think they’ll have a lot of value. Interacting with the customers is really good for them, too, and they really care. [For instance] they write special messages like “you are worthy” on the coffee cup sleeves for the customers to read when they pick up their orders.

What can people expect from a visit to the café? We just want you to feel the love. Everything here is a labor of love. Sometimes things aren’t perfect – maybe a croissant is misshapen – but we [show] grace [to] one another when that happens. Even when things aren’t perfect, you know love’s gone into everything we do. We also want visitors to gain awareness. [There’s] a sense of inclusion, of acceptance for all people, here. Most of all, we want everyone to feel loved.

Love Coffee, 15 Business Loop 70 E., Columbia, Missouri, 573.777.1877, columbialovecoffee.org