Sparrow Specialty Coffee continues mission despite closed doors

The Sparrow Specialty Coffee logo graces one of the business's windows. Sparrow is closed for the time being during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sarah Millard | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s note: Previously, this article called AJ and Rachelle Bell owners of Sparrow Specialty Coffee. They are actually the managers. The article has been updated to reflect this. The Collegian regrets this error.

As locals are asked to stay home, local businesses are closing due to COVID-19. Sparrow Specialty Coffee may be closed during this time, but managers AJ and Rachelle Bell continue to reach out to the community and their employees as they can.

“They’ve kept all the baristas updated towards the beginning of what we were going to do about working during this time,” said Sarah Grafke, Sparrow barista and Kansas State sophomore in interior design. “Then eventually when they decided to close, and then they’ve texted me a few times just reaching out to see how I’m doing.”

Sparrow is a nonprofit organization funded by the Church of the Nazarene in Manhattan. AJ and Rachelle started managing Sparrow in spring 2019.

Upon moving from Oregon, Rachelle said they found the job from a website that the Church of the Nazarene’s denomination has called the “Nazarene job board.” Here you can find openings in all Church of the Nazarene’s locations around the world.

“AJ owned a landscaping construction business in Oregon and I have an accounting degree,” Rachelle said. “So, we have business experience and we really like coffee.”

Rachelle also said their experience comes from ministry work, as AJ is a pastor and she is currently becoming a pastor. All managers of Sparrow have been pastors in order to continue their mission of “creating community and conversation,” Rachelle said.

Although they had no experience in coffee making at the start, the Bells saw Sparrow as an opportunity to be a part the Manhattan community by using their strengths to reach the community through good conversations and great coffee.

“It’s just an effort to reach out to people in a very, very different way,” Steve Myers, pastor at the local Church of the Nazarene, said. “Maybe people that don’t feel inclined to go to a local church because they were either burned by church when they were younger or at a different time in life and they still want the community. So, it’s really rooted in developing community and relationships.”

Tanner Baumgart, barista and senior in mechanical engineering, said he loves meeting people from the community through his work.

“I met a lot of great coworkers but I also got to meet a lot of professors, people who just lived in the community and a bunch of other students that I probably would’ve never met if I hadn’t been working at Sparrow,” Baumgart said.

Nate Flesher, senior in biochemistry and regular at Sparrow Specialty Coffee, said the atmosphere, along with the staff and good coffee, is what brings him back at least three times per week.

“They’re passionate about the gospel and passionate about using the coffee shop for the gospel,” Flesher said. “AJ especially is always friendly when I went in, willing to start up a conversation and talk about coffee or whatever we’re interested in.”

Although Sparrow is closed during this time, Rachelle says they still want to be a part of the community and open when it is safe for everyone.

“The plan still is to hopefully open the doors back up and be a part of Manhattan community still,” Rachelle said. “We’re just trying to figure out how we can best serve the community and be a part of the community and the solution. Hopefully it won’t be too far into the future that people are able to gather and have coffee again and build those relationships over a cup of coffee.”

One can still connect with Sparrow Specialty Coffee through their Facebook page as Rachelle continues to do “story time” via Facebook live, a tradition they started where they read books aloud on Wednesdays in the shop.