FLINT, Michigan—The entrance to the little chapel is set off to the side of the sanctuary. The church has existed in Flint for 160 years and in this building since the 1950s. Woodside Church is a landmark known for social action and bringing people together in the heart of the city’s college and cultural neighborhood.
For Chris Szumowicz, Woodside Church also fits perfectly as his second home for Wildroot Coffee, a place where brews are lovingly created and neighbors gather.
“For me, it’s just who I am,” he said. “I like being out in community and connecting folks. We wanted to keep this space open for our neighborhood,” Szumowicz said.
Wildroot operated a storefront just a few steps down from Woodside Church on Court Street before opening inside the church. It opened in February 2016 in the midst of the Flint water crisis and created a safe-haven for community building. The storefront closed a year later, but now is open again as a pop-up shop where everyone is welcome.
“We wanted to keep this space open for the people here,” the artist, father and coffee shop operator said. Yes, it is about giving his neighbors and his community a comfortable space, music, and conversation—but also “to provide opportunities for an experience that leaves you open to more and meets you where you’re at,” he said as aromatic steam rolled like fog from his pitcher, filling the air with its rich aroma.
Like any other coffee connoisseur, Szumowicz stands by his selection of roasts, quietly passing out his 10 selections of top shelf brew, nearly in sync with the live tunes that fill the chapel. “I get to meet people, serve them coffee. It’s something I really enjoy doing.”
The live performance on this day features Flint singer-songwriter Jenna Noelle, who performed an intimate acoustic show.
“I think Flint is a great place to grow as a performing artist,” Noelle said. “Like a lot of people from the Flint area, I’ve had my fears and shares of heartache and letdowns, and I use music to channel out my frustrations.”
The jam proved heartfelt. Noelle played new songs while families and friends gathered, slowing swaying to her words echoing like haunted hymns in the old chapel. “My creative process usually starts with a mood or idea,” she says. “The notes I play are an interpretation of that feeling, and from there I find the lyrics, it’s all very organic.”
Much like Wildroot itself, Noelle’s music is a self-expression intended to bring people together and build bridges. “I just want to share who I am with the people around me and create a sense of togetherness.” Noelle says. “I want to remind us that we’re all human and in this together.”
Pouring a washed African blend for an iced coffee, Szumowicz says he texted Pastor Deborah Conrad at Woodside Church, to ask what she thought about a pop-up coffee shop. Her response, he said, was: “I think that’s the grooviest thing I’ve ever heard.”
After a week, the church board approved operation of Wildroot Coffee in the church chapel. And, the church also decided to covers about half the cost of the coffee itself—making the premier blends affordable and accessible for all.
Although the truth is, you don’t have to pay at all to enjoy the roast at Wildroot Coffee.
Donations are accepted, but “no one that comes here for a cup of coffee will ever be turned away,”
And, you are welcome here … even if you are one of those who hit on Szumowicz’s pet peeve and “pour a bunch of cream in their cup.”
He shakes his head with a bright smile shining through his long beard. Spectacles scanning over the the funnels of dripping coffee. “They won’t get those flavor notes,” Szumowicz says, but notes those drinking brews drowning in cream can still take in the most important of Wildroot Coffee’s attributes. “They get to experience part of this whole process of being here together.”
Wildroot is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and on 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. It offers a selection of unique flavor choices of washed, unwashed, and honey brewed artisanal coffee.