Rainier Valley Coffee Shop

Tin Umbrella

As a visionary, idea-generator, I cultivate so many entrepreneurial dreams that I know I will never be able to live all of them out in a lifetime. Always, I am excited to see others take off with one of these creative endeavor, whether sparked by my influence or not. Awhile ago, I suggested to my community development team that a bakery in Hillman City could achieve a number of our desired goals for the neighborhood: cultivate community among diverse residents, employ recent immigrants, introduce people from diverse ethnic backgrounds to one another’s language, food and culture. Each day of the week, a delicacy from a different community represented in the neighborhood would be featured. Neighbors would come to expect Ethiopian sweet bread on Mondays and Vietnamese rolls on Tuesday, for example. The signs would be written in at least half a dozen of the most widely spoken languages in the Rainier Valley and the bakery would intentionally employ people representing these different communities to work together and teach one another how to bake their specialties. It would also have a space for community activities, or open mikes, where singing, dancing, poetry, storytelling and the arts could be performed. Another member of my team suggested the shop sell bubble tea as well (a Bubble Tea Bakery).

Although this idea hasn’t developed beyond the dream stage, I was excited to learn that a coffee shop, the Tin Umbrella, was opening in the neighborhood that’s connecting with our Ethiopian community and creating a gathering space for residents. The founder, Joya, spent some time in Ethiopia so speaks Amaharic and is sourcing the beans from farmers she personally knows there.

Attending the Grand Opening, however, I was disappointed that the crowd present did not at all represent the diversity of the Rainier Valley. I have since learned that the opening of the Tin Umbrella, as well as the Spinnaker Bay Brewing Company a block away, are sources of controversy by longer-term residents. Many feel as if these up-and-coming enterprises mirror the gentrification that occurred in Columbia City, pushing the lower-income residents, recent immigrants and diverse ethnic communities farther out of the city to be replaced by hip, young hangouts. Talking with Joya in-person, I know she has a desire to engage and celebrate the diverse communities located here, yet her business model (delivering high-end coffee to residents by bike) appeals to a select set of residents, while alienating others.If enterprises like the Tin Umbrella really want to connect with the other communities present, they will have to make the effort and do things like:

  • Sell unroasted beans to Ethiopian residents for their coffee ceremonies (in conjunction with getting the word out and marketing them at a price residents can afford)
  • Collaborate with other businesses in Hillman City to encourage cross experimentation of customers (e.g. a punch card for getting Somalian tea at the other shops in the neighborhood as well as Tin Umbrella coffee)
  • Employ baristas, roasters and staff who represent the diversity of the neighborhood

Watching establishments such as the coffee shop and brewery unfold causes me to recognize the difficulties that surround economic growth and development in conjunction with social and COMMUNITY development.It’s a tricky balance to facilitate both and I don’t know of a lot of models that have done that well. If you know of some, please share. I would love to hear about them!

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