Coffee Causes

Local coffee shops offer more than a caffeine fix

Jun 26, 2012

The name “coffee shop” is self-explanatory: a business devoted to delivering daily doses of caffeine and providing free wireless access. Three local coffee houses add flair to their services by impacting the community with events that are far from ordinary.

Coffee Talk

Everybody is talking about TED—TEDTalks, that is. TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading innovative ideas and inspiring change through the viewing of brief, informational talks.

Redamte Coffee House is helping TED’s mission by hosting its own TEDTalk events; they include the viewing of a selected TEDTalk followed by a discussion. The talks are presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate Distinguished Lecture Series the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Rather than have a conventional question-and-answer session featuring experts, the discussions are forum-style, according to Mitchell George, director of Redamte. The discussion’s conversational approach and intimate group of generally twelve to fifteen people facilitate an open atmosphere, allowing everyone to contribute their individual insights. Though there are regular and semi-regular attendees, new voices are always welcome.

George typically chooses the individual TEDTalk relatively last minute, allowing for flexibility to cover timely topics. The most recent event featured Dalia Mogahed’s talk “The attitudes that sparked Arab Spring.” The upcoming event on June 26 will focus on Rebecca Onie’s talk, “What if our healthcare system kept us healthy?”

Viewings are often concluded with a thought-provoking question: What now? How will your life be impacted from the viewing and discussion? “If you watch something that inspiring, you should be able to ask how you will live differently knowing what you do now,” George explains.

Future community events are already in the making. The coffee house hopes to address issues of human trafficking, women’s health and the environment within the next year. With more events such as these, perhaps Redamte’s motto (“The world is better with coffee”) will ring true both figuratively and literally. Talk about a coffee shop with a cause.

Redamte Coffee House, 449 State St., 819-8650, redamte.com

Jam On

Coffee is just a perky bonus for the music lovers who flock to Indie Coffee for its monthly Bluegrass Jam. Every second Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m., beginning musicians congregate in the cozy Indie interior. Their goal? Just jammin’.

The event is led by Chris Powers of “Mud Acres,” a weekly bluegrass special on Madison’s WORT 89.9 FM. Powers has ample musical experience as a radio host since 1979, musician for nearly thirty years and current member of bluegrass bands Graminy and Old Tin Can String Band. He also teaches guitar and mandolin classes through the University of Wisconsin Extension.

Generally, the group involves ten to fifteen advanced beginner bluegrass musicians eager to meld music. The jams are ripe with guitars and mandolins—Powers’ specialty—but they also include banjo, bass, harmonica and even a woman who plays the more obscure Irish tin whistle.

The jam operates in a circular fashion, as attendees take turns leadings songs—often with written music or notes jotted on a piece of paper—though the ultimate goal is to lead solely by memory. The leader teaches the group the song, and Powers interjects when needed to explain obscure song components such as unusual chord progressions. As most players’ levels cannot keep up with the traditionally fast bluegrass tempo, the group favors tunes with medium or slow tempos.

While Powers oversees the impromptu playing, the jams are aimed at giving players confidence, whether they are leading or learning a song. “A lot of times you’ll play something and say, ‘Well, that can’t be right, that’s how the guy on the record plays it,’” Powers explains. “A lot of people know more than they think they do, and it’s very encouraging for them. [The jams] help them build their self-confidence and realize they’re capable of playing music.”

Similar musical jams have even been known to act as breeding grounds for accomplished musicians looking to start a band with players at comparable levels.

Indie patrons, largely college students, are invited to listen and drink local brew, though the nature of the jam is more conducive to background music status, Powers says. “[The audience] is very tolerant, and some are downright encouraging.”

The event is sponsored by the Southwestern Wisconsin Bluegrass Association and is an accommodated beginners’ version of their more established musician jams. 

Indie Coffee, 1225 Regent St., 259-9621, indiecoffee.net

In Stitches

Those looking for a cozy meeting ground reminiscent of Grandma’s house can find a nostalgic nirvana at Yola’s Cafe. Originally named after co-owner Lance Ratze’s grandmother, the cafe adheres to a unique business philosophy: it serves as a surrogate grandmother’s house. The smell, of course, is provided by coffee instead of homemade cooking from Gram, but it is sweet all the same.

The cafe’s mission is to serve as a gathering place for the family—that is, the “cafe family,” which consists of all its customers. In concert with this philosophy, Yola’s holds a Knit, Stitch and Scrapbook Night from 5 to 8 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month. The night includes established groups, but is open to anyone with unfinished crafts. Regular attendees include Peg Corp, a knitting group of Madison Knitters Guild, scrapbooker Lisa Pingel and a neighborhood stitching crowd.

The idea sparked from customers who wanted a place to knit together. “It’s become kind of a destination now for that. They liked the atmosphere and that they had a place to themselves that wasn’t so loud, so they could hear each other talk,” Ratze says. After the initial interest, the Ratze family created a night exactly for that purpose, and opened it up to other groups and individuals.

But the meeting grounds mantra hardly stops there: Yola’s is a regular port for writing groups, book clubs and amateur special interest groups alike. The cafe also features local art, including Nancy Froncek’s floral flare. Froncek styles bouquets for the shop and also adds seasonal decorations. Locally made jewelry and cards are also for sale.

“Our relationship with the community is positive,” says co-owner Lisa Ratze. “We try to get out into the community a lot and we’re kind of owner-present in our dealings because it’s just really important to build the relationships in the cafe that way.”

Yola’s Café, 494 Commerce Dr., 827-5800, yolascafe.com

Brianna Wilson is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine.

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