Philadelphia’s newest coffee shop is focused on more than just serving up bold brews.

Located on Lancaster Avenue in West Philly, in the former Mighty Writers space, Stomping Grounds Café invites in customers with thoughtful touches like mugs filled with plants and a robust pay-it-forward culture.

At this shop, there aren’t any pumpkin spice lattes or many adults, because at Stomping Grounds, young people are in charge.

Stomping Grounds Café opened on Nov. 8, but the concept was years in the making at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter, the high school behind it.

“We wanted to create a space where students had real customer-facing training with real customers in the community,” said Melissa Jackson-Schmidt, the director of workforce development at YouthBuild.

During their senior year, students can opt into different vocational tracks, and those who decide to pursue business administration learn all about entrepreneurship in classes and then have the opportunity to put that into practice by working. Nyasia Flowers is one of those students.

Flowers, 18, is the student manager at Stomping Grounds. She works four days at the shop and is excited to learn and grow through her new role.

“I get to learn how everything works,” said Flowers. “It’s important to me because I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to start my own skincare line and I want to know the basics of running a business,” she said.

The workers at Stomping Grounds work alongside Kim Paulus, the café’s general manager and YouthBuild’s customer service instructor. Paulus has years of experience working in coffee shops and opening them up, too. This one feels different to her.

“The coffee is the vehicle,” Paulus said, ”but the true nature of the course is how to become your own person, how to develop your voice, how to advocate for what you need, how to create a better space around you, and how to change the things that need changed.”

Paulus teaches students how to engage with customers, along with how to properly steam milk and make the perfect cappuccino. She’s also helping to cultivate a coffee shop with a culture that feels more inclusive than other spaces. Her students have helped her think through what that looks like in West Philadelphia.

“We have made a space where anyone, regardless of background or ability or anything, can come in and be heard and be seen and be welcome,” she said.

Just a few weeks in, the shop has partnered with the neighboring businesses and community clean-ups are on tap for the future, along with other community events.

For Melanie Osborn, 21, that social justice mission carries special resonance. She works as the assistant manager at Stomping Grounds while studying secondary education at the Community College of Philadelphia, but her path wasn’t always so clear. When she was 17 years old, she left YouthBuild after struggling with her mental health. A few years later, she became pregnant and had a baby, Aurora, who is now 2 years old. After juggling work and motherhood, Osborn decided to return to YouthBuild.

“I really need[ed] to go back to school because this was something that I needed to set an example for her,” she said.

Osborne graduated as valedictorian last year and then stepped into her current role at the café.

“Throughout the past year, I really have gained a lot of self-confidence and a lot of strength and a lot of positivity, and it’s all because of the support that I’ve had,” said Osborn.

Stomping Grounds Café is open Monday through Friday, and offers various coffee and tea drinks, including a sweet potato latte.

Visit Stomping Grounds Café at 3859 Lancaster Ave.

This article first appeared on WHYY.org

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