By Jenny (Bower ’05) Pichura
Service can take many forms, and in the homey, 100-year-old house across State Route 18 from Geneva College, two alumni are serving the campus and community with creativity, hospitality and great coffee.
Since its grand opening in December 2006, the Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea Company (BFCAT) has added a new dimension of community to Geneva College and the city of Beaver Falls. The vision began in 1999, when Bethany (Canzanella ’03) arrived at Geneva for summer preview. She liked the college, but the surrounding area seemed to be missing something.
“I thought College Hill was a great place for a coffee shop,” Bethany says. “Then, after a year or two at Geneva, I started thinking, ‘Hey, maybe I should do it.’”
With a family background rich in entrepreneurial experience, Bethany already had a good foundation to begin brainstorming ideas for the business. As a Geneva student, she added a business concentration to her music major and sought advice from friends, professors and professionals in the field.
Bethany says that Geneva’s Christ-centered view of life and the world also had a huge impact on her vision for the business. “I was really struck by the reformed perspective that all of creation is redeemed through Christ. He has the power to transform all areas of life for His Kingdom—and that includes coffee.”
Geneva was also the place where she met Russ Warren ’03. Her strongest source of inspiration and encouragement, Russ became Bethany’s partner in the venture and in life. When the couple married after graduation in 2003, they didn't know what God had in store for them but they did know what He was calling them to do. Together, they made a commitment to build their business and their lives in Beaver Falls.
Beaver Falls was once a thriving steel town, but when the mills shut down, hundreds of people lost their jobs and moved away. Lack of business forced shop owners to close and the city sank into economic depression. But Beaver Falls is still a great place to live and work, and new businesses, jobs and opportunities are bringing fresh life to the city.
Although not a part of the college, BFCAT shares Geneva’s mission of transforming society through service and the love of Christ. The Warrens live out this mission through hospitality, making it a way of business, a way of life, and a way of showing people how precious they are in the sight of God.
“Hospitality doesn't just mean having people over for dinner,” Bethany says. “It means opening our lives to whoever God puts in our path.”
BFCAT barista Wendy Van Wyhe agrees. “Hospitality is about offering your best,” she says. “It shows people that they're worth it—worth our time and worth our best efforts.” Wendy is also director of the City House, a sociology project in downtown Beaver Falls where Geneva students live and work with each other and the local community.
Quality is a vital aspect of hospitality at Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea, and includes the personal touch and special care that patrons say set this shop apart from big coffee chains. “The staff pays special attention to every drink and every customer,” says former BFCAT barista Jason Panella ’04, “and a lot of care goes into how things are made and where they come from.”
“We're serving people by offering them a quality product,” Russ says. “It’s is our way of bringing a little luxury into their everyday lives.”
Striving to serve communities locally and around the world, the Warrens purchase their coffee through fair-trade relationships with farmers and importers to ensure sustainability and a fair profit for growers.
“Coffee isn't just a commodity,” Russ says. “Millions of people around the world are dependent on it as their sole source of income—whole communities depending entirely on one thing.”
Offering their best often means taking extra time, and as barista and sophomore business major Erik Ancil points out, time and hospitality go hand-in-hand. “BFCAT isn't a ‘fast coffee’ place,” he says. “But those few extra minutes you may spend waiting for your drink only enhance the welcoming feeling of the shop.”
This is the feeling that draws customers back to BFCAT again and again. Many make it a regular part of their routine— a “third place” in their everyday lives.
“Everyone has a first place (home) and second places (work, church or school),” Bethany says, “But people also need third places where they can gather, connect and informally meet with others in the community.”
Third places put people on equal ground, providing a safe place to have conversations, confrontations or the simple freedom of dropping in at any time. Jason describes the third-place feeling as gemütlichkeit, a German word meaning “a sense of ease, comfort and well-being.”
With its proximity to Geneva’s campus, BFCAT has become a natural third place for many students. While some come in the morning to read or study, others hang out at night to play board games with friends. Still other students, like student ministries major Jason Radcliffe ’08, say it just depends on the day.
“Mornings, evenings—anytime is good,” he says. “I always come in here with the mindset of reading, but with the hope that I'll run into people I know.”
“We wanted to create a place where students and members of the community would both feel comfortable to come,” Bethany says. “People don't feel obligated to interact with each other when they step through our doors, but somehow conversations just naturally happen.”
Pat Mason, a homecare nurse, has been a regular since the shop opened. A morning customer, Pat stops in the shop before she sees her first patient each day. She loves plain non-fat lattes and running into friends and neighbors, but her daily visits are also the continuation of a lifelong tradition.
“I've always had someplace where I go every morning for coffee,” she says. “And that’s one reason why I love this place. It’s the atmosphere and the friends and the connecting.”
The more Russ, Bethany and their staff discover about the intricacies of this beverage and the impact it can have on the world, the more they want to share it with each person that walks into the shop. This principle of service arises not only from the fact that coffee is a gift to be valued and enjoyed, but because each customer is an individual, made in the image of God.
“We're serving people more than ‘just a cup of coffee,’” says barista Jake Liefer. “Once you recognize the skill and labor that’s put into a product, a whole new world of joy and thankfulness opens up.”
As he goes through each day doing research, roasting, working up front and behind the scenes, Russ likes to remember Proverbs 24, which talks about the rooms of a house being filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
“We're trying to fill the rooms of creation with treasure,” he says. “We want to do whatever we can to support the people who live here and make this area a more beautiful place—a better place to live.”
Geneva is one of only 118 colleges in the U.S. to be approved for membership in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), and is a founding member.