Danna Suellentrop – Blip Roasters
“Initially, we thought we would weather the pandemic and remain open at both of our cafes. However, virtually overnight the climate changed and we realized we’d rather protect staff than attempt to keep service open. Closing felt BIG. Since opening the cafe in 2016, we had never closed for a whole day. We maintain hours on all holidays and through extreme weather conditions - often, those are some of our most enjoyable days.
On March 17, 2020 we gathered staff from both cafes and, with their concerns and questions in mind, decided to close for a minimum of 6 weeks. That day, we assisted all staff in signing up for unemployment income and stocked them all up on coffee. We knew Kansas City would go into lockdown, which the city did beginning March 24. Though our staff had been laid off, management agreed to take some time to deep clean our cafes, with plans to re-open them as soon as the lockdown lifted.
At the time, our first cafe, in the West Bottoms neighborhood of Kansas City, was getting a little too tight for our needs. Our second cafe, opened in February 2019, had been quiet and slow getting off the ground. We decided that when re-opening was possible, we would not return to our second location.
When it became clear that the lockdown would extend much longer than initially expected, we jumped all the way in and decided it was time to move. In the year prior we had begun looking for a new space and, with dedicated time to spend, we purchased a 19,000 sq. ft. building about 4 blocks from our previous West Bottoms cafe.
We moved the roasting space first, which allowed us to maintain our roasting and fulfill online orders. We saw a huge increase in online ordering and are so thankful for Blip fans near and far for keeping us in mind while isolating at home.
Over the summer, we built a cafe, full kitchen, offices, and dry goods/merchandise warehouse. Since re-opening, we’ve also added a screen printing studio, allowing us to bring merch production in house, and have leased a section of the building to a mechanic who builds motorcycles (Blip is a meeting place for the KC Motorcycle community at-large and a licensed dealer for Bell, Biltwell, and RevIt helmets and gear). Though we were closed for over 5 months (and hadn’t fully acknowledged where we had moved to), loyal Blipsters found the new building and showed up to offer their time and tools in the new space. We are beyond grateful for their unyielding support and dedication to us.
Before re-opening in September 2020, we worked closely with staff to design a COVID-safety plan that prioritized their safety and comfort. We continue to check in about the safety plan at each staff meeting and adjust based on their requests and needs. As we haven’t had any outbreaks among staff/guests and only a couple staff have become sick (they both were able trace their exposure to outside of Blip) we are confident that this safety plan is working. Masks are always required in our space and we have maintained limited seating in the cafe.
Blip has now been open for 6 full months in our new location. We are open 7a-7p every day of the week and have been excited to see both familiar faces and new ones
The time we were closed also allowed us to really shape how we want our business to operate and grow. At Blip we like to say “built, not bought” when talking about both our business and our community. So it’s important that we’re growing our staff’s skills to better support themselves and the rest of our community. We’ve added additional training for our staff, including American Sign Language and SAFE Bar Training, as well as offering ASL classes to other local coffee professionals and expanding community access to composting by working with a local composting service. We are also working on a support services resource guide for community members and staff as well as an alternative to policing safety guide.
For me, the most impactful piece of COVID has been the change in how we approach our work and our community. We have to bring both compassion and patience into our space. We aren’t in competition with other coffee companies, there is room for all of us.
We can roast and work and create without running ourselves ragged. We can create an environment where staff feels both valued and valuable. We can create a space that allows for access to coffee and community, we can build a platform for more voices to be heard and more opportunities to grow. We can uplift each other without also stepping on one another; and because we can do these things, we do.”
Danna Sullentrop is the Operations manager of Blip Roasters. A Kansas City based coffee shop and roastery that has a passion for motorcycles and building a community of like-minded riders that also enjoy a fine cup of joe.