COLUMBUS, Ohio — At work, Ben Willis is a man in motion. He’s pouring, brewing and serving up coffee, often while humming a tune.
“We make the best product,” he said. “We have the best service.”
Willis already seems at home in the new space for the company he co-founded, Parable Coffee, which celebrated its soft opening on Wednesday and Thursday.
The shop started as a pop-up in the restaurant Comune during the fall of 2020. Nearly two years of work, planning and online fundraising later, the co-owners are celebrating a fresh start.
“It’s been a wild couple years,” said co-owner Jeffrey Clark. “We opened the shop during the pandemic. And we’ve been trying to grow it an expand, all at the same time.”
But this isn’t the typical coffee shop. Yes, the goal is to make gourmet cups of coffee. And the beans are ethically sourced. But that’s where the similarities end.
Parable is both a gratuity-free and pay-what-you-can establishment. It’s a way to benefit both employees and the community.
“We understand that terminology is really new and kind of unearthed territory in the service industry, but we believe that, yes, we should be paid fairly for our work but also we’re willing to meet our community members where they’re at, and we believe that coffee and the service we provide should be equitable, and all we really ask is just to have a conversation about where you’re at,” Willis said.
That’s the hope – that if someone is unable to pay the asking price, that that person have a conversation with the employees about why. And there are no hard feelings.
“Just transparency and trust, That’s how we build community,” Willis said. “We’re just trying to be a better part of the community. We’re trying to do business better. We’re trying to make it more sustainable, not only for us but for our employees and our community members.”
The mission, and the coffee, seem to be pretty appealing so far. Thursday morning, there was a line of customers stretching to the door. Hanna Tumbusch was among them.
“I have been coming to Parable for years, ever since their old location, but their mission is something that keeps me coming back,” she said. “It’s knowing that I can pay it forward for somebody else that may not be able to pay fully for their coffee, for them still to get that same experience, come here, enjoy their afternoon in downtown.”
Tumbusch said she is happy to support the mission, as are many others in the community.
“Knowing that it’s Black- and queer-owned, too, and that the owners are somebody that we’ve gotten to know over the years, they are somebody that we want to support,” he said. “We know that they’re giving back to the community, and knowing that they’re doing that, we want to be a part of it as well.”
Of course, the goal is also to create an environment where employees are both respected and compensated fairly. Willis said that’s already been a success as well. He said a typical barista might only stay in a job for six to nine months, but he’s kept every employee for nearly two years.
“When we started it, we were like, okay, well, what if we just set it up fundamentally to work like this,” he said. “And, it’s working.”
Parable Coffee is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.