Sip of Hope Coffee Comes With an Extra Shot of Mental Health

Regardless of whether the coffee cup is half empty or half full, the Sip of Hope coffeehouse is there for its patrons. Sip of Hope Coffee Bar/Facebook

Coffee is a go-to pick-me-up any time of day.

But sometimes coffee isn't enough, and you need a little extra help sorting out what's going on in your life. That's where Chicago's Sip of Hope coffeehouse comes in. The shop cares about the mental health of its customers and community. It's the first of its kind to give 100 percent of its proceeds to a nonprofit that focuses on proactive suicide prevention.

"It's my theory about baristas, bartenders and barbers. We see these people every day, sometimes more than our own friends," founder Jonny Boucher told Fresh Cup in September. "Talking about mental health can be as easy as getting a cup of coffee."

And Boucher knows more about the subject than he should; he's lost a number of people close to him to suicide, including family members. Following the death of a music industry mentor, Boucher formed Hope for the Day in 2011, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention. He started by handing out flyers at concerts, but Boucher was looking for some other kind of outreach. He researched other mental health nonprofits, and found they were all trying to get access to the same funding. Worse for Boucher was that "everyone was using two words that I absolutely [expletive] hate: awareness and advocacy," he tells Ozy. "So they were being reactive, when Hope for the Day's mission is to be proactive."

Coffee for a cause

In 2016, Boucher and Hope for the Day partnered with Dark Matter Coffee, a local Chicago roaster, to release Sips of Hope coffee, a blend that would be sold in Whole Foods. Still, this wasn't generating the funding Boucher was looking for to help Hope for the Day's mission. Enter the Sip of Hope coffeehouse, a joint venture between Hope for the Day and Dark Matter that opened in early May. Coffee and mental health resources would be available in one spot, following Boucher's idea of the important role baristas, bartenders and barbers can play.

"We want to meet people where they're at, and then educate, empower and equip them to be proactive," he tells Ozy.

Located in Chicago's Logan Square, but a bit away from the district's main drag — which is bursting with coffee options — the Sips of Hope coffeehouse is across the street from the Logan Square Branch of the Chicago Public Library, which hosts free mental health training. Stretched across the wall and on the employees' shirts is Hope for the Day's slogan: "It's OK to not be OK." Additional resources are on hand in the shop itself, including the employees. Each barista has received training from Mental Health First Aid, an organization that teaches people how to help someone who is developing or experiencing mental health problems.

According to Ozy, customers don't feel a stigma visiting the shop; it's a good place to get coffee, and it has a mission behind it, too.

"You can come here, you can grab a cup of coffee and go, or you can support the organization more than that, too," Boucher told the Chicago Tribune in May. "But at the end of the day, it's really about just having a place where people can come get coffee on a hundred good days in a row and on day 101, if the [expletive] hits the fan, there are resources."