Essential Baking Company manager Ashley Mengoni keeps a jar of wooden tokens next to the till.
The discs are larger than a dollar coin, spray-painted gold and decorated with acrylic images of hearts and coffee cups. Each one costs $2.75, enough to buy a 16-ounce drip coffee for any homeless person who walks in the door.
The tradition stretches back more than 100 years to working-class cafes in Naples, Italy. Customers who experienced good luck would buy one coffee for themselves and another one “sospeso,” or suspended, and made available free of charge to someone who was homeless or experiencing hard times (RC, “Kindness by the cup,” April 24).
A photograph of a homeless man sipping a sospeso coffee spread across Facebook and Twitter earlier this year. “Suspended coffee” became so popular and spread so wide that mythbusting website Snopes.com wrote about it to let people know that, indeed, cafes in Europe really do save coffees for homeless people.
In April, the story appeared on Mengoni’s Facebook page. Within just a few days, she had convinced her managers at Essential to start providing suspended coffee at the shop in Wallingford and had cut and painted 75 wooden tokens, each one representing a $2.75 cup of coffee.
It was a perfect fit, Mengoni said, for the organic baking company.
“We are focused on nourishing the body with good products,” Mengoni said. “That should be open to everyone.”
Essential Baking Company’s owners liked the idea so much that they’re planning on replicating it at cafes in Georgetown and the Madison Valley.
At the cafe on the boundary between the Fremont and Wallingford neighborhoods, Megnoni rarely sees anyone who appears homeless, but she expects that to change.
In April, Mengoni made the 75 tokens available for purchase. They sold out within three days, so she made 85 more.
Mengoni’s customers buy the tokens by the handful. By May 16, the store was sold out of tokens again. Customers who bought suspended coffees dropped the discs made of paper into a jar, which was almost full already. And Mengoni was preparing to cut another 130 discs.
Demand for the tokens has yet to catch up with supply. So far, few homeless people have taken advantage of the offer. Two people came in for coffee after hearing about it through the Homeless in Seattle Facebook page.
Mengoni has nonetheless started offering loaves of bread as well for two tokens. Eventually, she wants to offer other food items; maybe sandwiches.