After only a year of activity, 9 ¾ Expresso is already making an impact on the community in a very unique way.
The tiny cafe under the stairs is Harry Potter-inspired from head to toe, with baristas dressed in wizarding robes, a floating broomstick, and plenty of potions and tonics to choose from for drinks.
The cafe is in an open, bright room in the building, but to get there you had to walk through a small dark closet nicknamed the “Harry Potter Closet” in the E. Clair beauty salon, owned by Elizabeth Strusz.
The hallway that now connects the cafe to the living room was not in the original building design, so the team had to go through a break room and then this closet before they could reach the elevator.
“Every time you walk through that creepy, grimy closet everyone is like, ‘Oh, that’s a Potter closet’ because you’re just ‘poof! “And you are in this beautiful, sunny region,” Strusz said.
During the pandemic, Strusz bought the building and removed part of the wall, creating a hallway and making the room easily accessible to the living room.
“Once you pull out a brick wall and have a Harry Potter closet and realize that people love caffeine and you’re a big geek, you marry it all and end up with 9 ¾ Espresso,” Strusz said.
Once the idea for the coffee was formed, Strusz teamed up with Jen’s Joe to provide the coffee beans for the coffee.
“Jen’s Joe originally had coffee here four years ago and had the opportunity to move to Buckwater,” Strusz said. “At that point she was looking at two places and I said, ‘Hey, I want to run with that idea, but I still want to use your beans. I love your flavor and I love what you do, so I want to work with you, but handle it a little bit differently. Jen’s Joe has given Strusz her blessing and they continue to work together to create coffee for 9 ¾ Expresso and Jen’s Joe.
Once the cafe secured its source of coffee, the entire team of employees came together to participate in the design of the artwork that encompasses the building.
“Everything you see here was created by the people who worked here,” Strusz said. “I said, ‘Here’s my idea, now put your flavor on it.’ “
The artwork includes everything from a Lego Hedwig to the painted stairwell under which the cafe sits.
“I think the part I love the most is, although that’s in theory my idea, she wrote so much about everyone,” Strusz said.
One work of art that serves as both a decoration and a method of bringing magic to the cafe is the owl post, where patrons can pick up and leave letters of encouragement for other patrons visiting the cafe.
“The owl post is great because someone, while they’re waiting for their coffee, may have something inspiring to pass on to the next person and the next person comes along and can take it with them,” said Strusz.
Mail is one of the many ways coffee helps everyone who walks into the store feel welcome.
“I was badly bullied as a child and bullied for stupid reasons,” Strusz said. “So one of the most important things we’ve worked on is making sure we’re inclusive for everyone. “
According to Strusz, inclusion doesn’t stop with pride flags hanging on the walls, but continues to care for the community when it needs help and support.
“One of the coolest things that has happened so far is that a woman from Cape Girardeau sent me a private message saying that her child had just revealed to her that he was trans and didn’t know where to go. “said Strusz. “We’re just a cafe, but the fact that you can reach out to me and ask me where to take your kid is super cool.”
Strusz said the 9 ¾ Espresso team is constantly striving to improve the diversity of the community by making coffee accessible to everyone.
“As long as you are kind and kind, we really want to support you and we want to make sure that you feel welcome and that you have a place to come. […] Everyone has a place at our table, ”said Strusz.
Morgan Perdue, an employee of the cafe, said the best part of working at the cafe is the feeling of inclusion in the building.
“I have never had such an accepting environment not only for LGBT + people, but also for your own personal mental health days. If you need it, we allow it here, ”said Perdue.
Rose Calhoun, another 9 ¾ Expresso employee, said she came from work in the coffee shop fast food industry and immediately felt the change in the environment.
“From the second I walked in I knew this place was a welcoming place and that I felt right at home in the environment,” Calhoun said. “Even though I only work as a barista, I feel like I’m more than just a barista, I’m part of a family. I am able to be who I am and everyone accepts it very well.
Calhoun said they had to wear a strict uniform in their last job, so they felt a difference in the cafe as soon as they tried on their wizarding robes.
“I was like, ‘I’m really working in a wizarding costume right now,’ and I felt so comfortable and I felt like I was my own person,” Calhoun said.
Strusz reiterated that baristas play a major role in the inclusiveness of coffee.
“Every barista who works here puts so much work into the magic that you can’t help but feel loved when you walk in,” Strusz said.
Strusz encouraged the community to stop by to visit the café at 212 South University Avenue, Carbondale, Ill. 62901 and participate in the magic and wonder of it.
“We certainly don’t just make drinks here, we want to sell the experience of being here and want to open up a welcoming environment. If you don’t feel accepted into your home or home, you have a place here that you can call family, ”Perdue said.
Photo editor Sophie Whitten can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @swhittenphotography.
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