Barista KC Supports Local Coffee Professionals with Barista Mercantile

The weekly in-person events offer an outlet for side hustles to shine.


Photos courtesy of Ben White

At a time when jobs behind the bar are disappearing, many coffee professionals have started selling handmade goods to fill the gap in income. In Kansas City, Mo., these makers don’t have to do it alone. Barista Kansas City, a locally based barista-first online community, has devised a way to help these side-hustlers move their stock.

Customers gather at Marcell Coffee for the Barista KC Barista Mercantile. The mercantile opens for a few hours weekly and sells barista-made and barista-benefiting goods.

For a few hours each week, Barista KC’s Barista Mercantile offers a unique way for the community to support local coffee and the hands preparing it. Hosted at local roaster Marcell Coffee, the informal, open-air market is an outlet for local coffee professionals and makers to sell their handmade goods. The event is a physical manifestation of the barista-first mindset Barista KC promotes in its online community.

“Our goal has always been to spotlight baristas in the community,” Barista KC cofounder Jerry Ponzer says. “We always try to spotlight the person as a unique individual. Even from day one, we’ve pushed barista side hustles.”

Since it began, the mercantile has featured a variety of products, such as handmade masks, candles, and rock-climbing chalk bags. For food selections, there’s also been focaccia, sourdough, vegan cookies paired with personal-size cartons of Oatly, and of course, free drip and cold-brew coffee.

Masks, candles, and rock-climbing chalk bags are a few of the non-food items sold at the Mercantile.

Logistically, the mercantile promotes social distancing practices by setting up shop with tables in a U-shape. Wearing a mask and utilizing contactless payment methods are encouraged. Surfaces are regularly disinfected, and a sanitization station is available.

Finding a location that will allow the sale of other goods on-site is key to making a mercantile work, advises Barista KC team member Kate Blackman. Barista KC cofounder Ben White advises checking out the most up-to-date local ordinances and guidelines. For example, Kansas City currently allows businesses to apply for permits to set up on sidewalks, in the street, and in parking lots.

In terms of what happens to the profits, Barista KC gives vendors the opportunity to choose: keep them, donate them to the Barista KC tipjar, or split them between the two. Kate recommends asking vendors ahead of time which option they plan to choose.

For a small donation to the tipjar, Barista Mercantile customers can buy a cookie and personal-size cartons of Oatly.

The Barista KC tipjar collects donations in support of displaced baristas and redistributes them to those who apply to receive tips. Jerry says the goal has always been to offer $50 per applicant weekly to provide a mobility fund for groceries or gas. At the three-month mark, the tipjar has awarded around $10,000 to displaced coffee professionals in the KC area.

The Barista Mercantile isn’t the team’s only effort to elevate and raise funds for the tipjar. In early April, Barista KC hosted Foam at Home, a low-waste, at-home latte art throwdown. The team shipped out Oatly cartons and Oddly Correct instant coffee to interested competitors who donated $10 or more to the tipjar. Instagram followers cast their votes via Stories. With 48 competitors, the voting process took four days.

Barista KC tipjar contributors can pick up their coffee at the Barista Mercantile. Kapeh Utz donated the coffee, and Marcell Coffee roasted it.

Additionally, Barista KC’s Coffee Project gives back to tipjar donors and caffeinates other local foodservice workers. The project offers whole-bean coffee, which was donated by Kapeh Utz and roasted by Marcell Coffee, to those who donate to the tipjar. For every donation received, Barista KC gives a matching amount of coffee to the staff of a local restaurant, café, or bar.

The Barista Mercantile began as a way to offer more during in-person coffee pickup for contributors. While it isn’t the only way Barista KC has engaged its community during the COVID-19 crisis, it has been the first opportunity to foster in-person community in our socially distant times. “It’s been really fun to finally get to that point where we’re getting to engage with people again,” Kate says. “It’s really cool to see people who have supported us this whole time and chipped in whatever they could to the tipjar.”

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Lauren Miers
is a do-it-all communicator and freelance writer based in Columbia, Mo. When she’s not writing stories or reading a good book, she’s traveling with her barista husband to coffee destinations and competitions.

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