Q&A with Reverend Leroy Barber
The Rev. Leroy Barber wears many hats. Formerly Director of Innovation at the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church, Barber is currently the associate pastor at the Groves Church in Sunnyside and the Executive Director of a North Carolina-based nonprofit called Neighborhood Economics, which supports entrepreneurs in disenfranchised neighborhoods. He’s also Black Santa PDX. Finally, as if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, he just opened a coffee shop, Grinds & Vines, in the basement of the Sunnyside Methodist Church. Barber also loves to wear actual hats—including this red fedora. Stop by to have a latte or pour-over, and give him and his daughter Jessica a big welcome!
How long have you been in Portland?
Leroy: I’m from Atlanta. I came here about ten years ago for a job with a non-governmental organization called Word Made Flesh, but they’ve since moved. They work in nine different countries. I’ve done a lot of work with missions, and international and community development.
Do you live in Sunnyside?
Leroy: No. I live in Southeast Portland but further out, towards Gresham.
Why did you start your business in Sunnyside?
Leroy: I worked for the Methodist Conference for about five years and I invited Sunia [Gibbs, pastor at The Groves Church] and the Groves to be part of this building [the old Sunnyside Methodist Church]—to help renovate it and run it as a community center. A few years ago, we found old pictures—like, twenty years old—showing that there used to be a coffee shop in the basement. So that’s what gave me the idea. And I just think Sunnyside is a good neighborhood. It’s a close-knit community.
Tell me about the premise of your coffee shop.
Leroy: It’s Grinds & Vines. Our tagline is, “A cup for the grind—a glass to unwind.” That’s the idea—come by in the morning to get your coffee. Come by in the evening for your wine.
How did you get into coffee?
Leroy: I’ve started coffee shops before when we lived in Atlanta. So, this is the second iteration of that work. I’ve done some work around the country helping other coffee shops get started, so I decided to do one here. People love coffee here! Although, I’ll admit, it’s a bit intimidating to start a coffee shop in Portland. You need to do your coffee right! So far so good, though. I’m actually a coffee snob myself.
I was there the first day you opened and was impressed that I could order a pour-over.
Leroy: Yeah. And I hate burnt coffee.
But the coffee shop is really more about the place. It’s more about what coffee shops do in a neighborhood. It’s a place to go and be, and meet people. Hang out.
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term for these spaces that are neither work nor home as “third places”—they are key to strengthening community.
Leroy: That’s kind of my initial thought around it and it still is. I want people to get to know it and feel like it’s their place and their community.
Which coffee roaster or roasters do you feature?
Leroy: All our beans are locally roasted by Rocky Butte Roasters. They’re out in Northeast Portland. Our main roast is an Ethiopian medium roast blend, and then we have a darker roast that’s Honduran. We also have a decaf blend.
Your hours are 7:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Why so early?
Leroy: We’re looking to expand our hours already. We’re finding that people don’t really move into the shop until around 10:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. I’m getting the sense that Sunnyside is a later starting community. So we’re going to stay open till 2-3 p.m. I’ve actually started testing it out this week [mid February] and it’s going pretty well. We get folks coming in right around noonish, one-ish.
We started at 7:00 a.m. and we’ve literally had maybe one person come in during the 4 weeks we’ve been here. (Laughs.)
Who supplies the pastries and other baked goods?
Leroy: We had a local vegan baker—though I just found out her business is folding. And then we have another baker named Florence E. Jenkins—her business is Nana’s Exquisite Confections. Both are black-owned businesses.
You’re also planning to open another location, right?
Leroy: Our plan was to open off of Halsey in Northeast—but we ran into a bunch of problems with the building and plumbing. It’s slowly moving along but we’re starting to think that we may not be able to open in that location.
We just got approved for a grant from Prosper Portland—and we may use that to make some improvements at this spot in Sunnyside. I want to open a location in Northeast but I actually really like the feeling in Sunnyside. The business strips on Hawthorne and Belmont are fine. But I like the neighborhood feel a lot better.
Any upcoming plans?
Leroy: The kitchen has already been approved as a commercial kitchen, but I want to renovate it so that other folks can use it. Let’s say you’re in the neighborhood and you’re a baker and you want to use that kitchen as your kitchen. We want to get it updated and get a new stove in there, a commercial refrigerator, mixers and other equipment.
Like a commissary kitchen?
Leroy: Exactly. We think that will fit in with the vibe. People want to support micro-businesses — especially black and brown businesses. We’re going to build that up a little bit.
We can also now host small events of 40 people or less. So, that’s been fun. We had a guy come by yesterday who lives in the neighborhood and runs a Scrabble group. He wants to bring his Scrabble group in. We’re doing a music and art night this Saturday with Sunia. (She’s also an artist and musician.) So we’re going to amp up the number of open mics and shows. I’m learning how to make mocktails. I have a liquor license at the other location but not here, yet. If people want to buy bottle of wine from me, though, they can, and then they can open it here if they like.
So how do events work? Do you charge for the space?
Leroy: I don’t know about you, but event spaces are so expensive. My goal is to make it as communally friendly as possible. So what we’re going to do is charge folks $50 an hour. But the shop will be open, so if the people who come spend $50 in the shop, then the space is free. If they spend $35 then they owe us just $15.
Is the café handicapped accessible?
Leroy: Yes. There’s a ramp that goes down to the basement a bit further east of our entrance. I don’t leave it open because we’d get a lot of people wandering in and there are several nonprofits in the church basement. I’m going to get a sign and a remote bell. If someone needs the ramp, they can ring the bell and I can come in and unlock that entrance.
Dog or Cat?
Leroy: Dogs! I don’t have a dog—but I definitely prefer dogs.