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How one Black-owned business serves its community, a cup at a time

There’s plenty to see and experience in Inglewood, one of LA’s historically Black and brown neighborhoods. You can catch a game at SoFi Stadium, home to the Rams and Chargers. Take in a live show at The Miracle Theater. Or maybe catch your breath and enjoy a honey lavender latte from the locally owned coffee shop Sip & Sonder.

“Inglewood is full of creatives—of progression and movement and excitement and energy—as well as a sense of pride,” Sip & Sonder co-owner Shanita Nicholas says.

Nicholas says that pride and energy, so reflective of what she’d left behind in New York, drew her to the area. And it’s why she and her business partner, Amanda-Jane Thomas, decided to open their shop on the corner of Market and Queen.

“We thought, ‘We want to be here. We want to be in Inglewood,’” says Thomas. “But Inglewood had to also choose us. And that could only happen if we were real about where we came from and our values.”

Values like Black ownership and community.

“I think that’s what resonated with people, in terms of accepting Sip & Sonder with warm, open arms,” says Thomas. “This is going to remain a space that is for them, growing and responding to the needs and wants of the community.”

Thomas and Nicholas pour their passion into Inglewood

Part of what makes Thomas and Nicholas’s story unique is that they aren’t just business owners and baristas. They’re also practicing attorneys and co-founders of the nonprofit LA Black Investors Club (LABIC).

“The mission of LABIC is to connect the resources we have, and those within our network, to entrepreneurs and investors within the Black community,” says Nicholas. “So we’ve done fireside chats with individuals, we’ve hosted workshops, and we’ve partnered with other community programs and organizations.”

Nicholas and Thomas, who met at the same New York law firm, use their legal expertise to guide their workshop topics. Recently, they gave presentations on how to form a legal entity and how to protect your brand through trademarks.

“The work we do with LABIC, and really what we’re trying to do with Sip & Sonder, is to help people be their authentic selves,” says Thomas.

It’s part of why she and Nicholas have embraced opportunities to work with organizations like Keep It Run Hundred , which focuses on wellness.

“It’s like, what are all the ways we can serve our community?” Thomas says. “To provide resources and access to things that will ultimately make us all happier and healthier.”

Thomas says there’s something about a physical space and what it can do to empower a community.

“For us, that means providing space for you to create and get the creative juices flowing,” she says. “Provide space for you to actually take a step back and breathe.”

How do they do it all—run a business, practice law, and co-lead a nonprofit to lift up other Black business owners and entrepreneurs?

“We drink a lot of coffee,” Nicholas says, laughing. “A lot of coffee.”

In the midst of a pandemic, Sip & Sonder inspires good

Given their strong community mindset, it should come as no surprise that when the coronavirus struck LA, Nicholas and Thomas wanted to help.

“We thought, there’s something those frontline workers really do need, and we can provide it,” says Thomas. That thing was coffee.

“We have a product that nurses, doctors, and staff members want and need to keep awake for the extremely important work they’re doing,” says Nicholas. “So in the midst of COVID-19, Brewing for Good was born.”

The idea was to donate cups of coffee to local hospitals and their essential workers. Initially, Nicholas and Thomas covered the cost themselves, but it wasn’t long before others wanted to get involved.

“So we started a little GoFundMe where people could buy a cup of coffee for a health care worker for just $3,” says Thomas. “We thought, we all care, and we all want to do something, but oftentimes, we don’t know how. And this became something people were really happy to do.”

So happy that Sip & Sonder has since raised over $4,000 for around 1,000 cups of coffee, plus pastries, for frontline workers.

The amazing part about Nicholas and Thomas’s story is that their question was never if they should donate but how much. And they asked themselves that question even as they were forced to shut down their operations in response to COVID-19.

“When COVID began, we did have to close our doors,” says Thomas. “And we had to furlough our entire team, which was a really difficult decision.”

Thomas and Nicholas decided to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan to bring back their employees when things reopened. Fortunately, the funding came through, and they’ve since invited everyone back to work.

“That was a benefit to the whole team,” Nicholas says.

Do good things, and good things happen

With so much going on, you’d think Thomas and Nicholas would be too busy to dream about future business goals. Yet one of theirs has always been to take Sip & Sonder coffee to the national and even global level. But to do that, they’d need a roaster, and roasters are expensive.

Given all they do for their community, though, it’s safe to say no one deserves a windfall quite like Nicholas and Thomas. So in July 2020, YouTube influencer Erin Robinson partnered with QuickBooks to make it happen.

After ordering and drinking 25 different coffees from Sip & Sonder, Robinson surprised Thomas and Nicholas with a gift: a $5,000 donation from QuickBooks. The donation was made in the hopes that Thomas and Nicholas would finally get the roaster they needed to expand.

“We got it installed the first week of August,” Nicholas says, “and we’ve been roasting.”

Now, the two are focused on filling and shipping orders and building out their wholesale accounts.

“It’s so amazing to us because we ship everywhere across the country now—to every state, it feels like,” says Thomas. “We’re like, ‘How is someone in South Carolina or Texas or Ohio or Maryland finding us?’ Eventually, we want to expand our physical space to cities around the country, to bring the Sip & Sonder experience to others. But until then, we can ship our coffee and have others enjoy what we produce in the comfort of their own home.”

Purchase through their website, , to enjoy a cup of Sip & Sonder coffee in your home.

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