Why you should care

The Windy City is known for its independent coffee shops, but this Logan Square café with a purpose stands out. 

It’s not unusual that a customer wanders into Sip of Hope, a coffee shop in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, simply looking for a frothy latte or a warm pastry. And that’s OK by Jonny Boucher — but it’s not really why he opened the café.

Sip of Hope is an extension of Hope for the Day, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Boucher in 2011 that is centered on proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. With more than 300 visitors a day, it’s a gathering place where coffee lovers can talk openly about their mental health struggles — something every barista on Boucher’s staff is trained to do. It’s also the first café in the world to donate 100 percent of its proceeds toward suicide prevention and mental health.

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Board member Sean Tenner (second from right) talks with patrons at the opening of the Sip of Hope Coffee Bar on May 3, 2018.

Source Alamy

I nurse a London Fog latte as Boucher leans on the bar and shares Hope for the Day’s origin story. In the U.S. alone, more than 121 individuals complete suicide each day. Boucher has lost 16 friends and family members to suicide, including his former music industry mentor, Mike Scanland. After Scanland’s death, Boucher left the industry and took action to prevent suicide. One night, extremely frustrated –- and extremely drunk — Boucher grabbed his computer and registered a nonprofit company. When he woke up, hung over, the next morning, he thought, “Well, I guess I’m doing this!”

During Hope for the Day’s early R&D phase, Boucher researched other mental health nonprofits in the Chicago area and learned they were all scrapping for the same funding. (Hope for the Day has currently not received any funding from the state of Illinois.) What’s more, “everyone was using two words that I absolutely fucking hate: awareness and advocacy,” Boucher says. “So they were being reactive, when Hope for the Day’s mission is to be proactive.”

The conversation started with, ‘How do we take a bag of coffee and turn it into suicide prevention?’

Jonny Boucher, founder, Sip of Hope

Before the coffee shop, though, there was the coffee. “The conversation started with, ‘How do we take a bag of coffee and turn it into suicide prevention?’” Boucher says. In 2016, Hope for the Day partnered with local roaster Dark Matter Coffee to create specialty-grade bags of Sip of Hope coffee, which they distributed to area Whole Foods stores. It was a sweet deal, but Boucher knew the company still wasn’t making the money necessary to offer the resources he wanted. So he pitched Dark Matter on opening a joint-venture coffee shop that could also serve as a space to provide resources and education. “We want to meet people where they’re at, and then educate, empower and equip them to be proactive,” says Boucher. To date, Hope for the Day has distributed hundreds of thousands of resources (e.g., information about local mental health providers and online workshops, educational literature and brochures, etc.).

When it came time to scout the café’s location, Boucher found support from Logan Square’s aldermen and local landlords. The neighborhood already has 15 coffee shops in a 3.5-square-mile area, says Jessica Wobbekind, executive director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce. But residents from across Chicago specifically seek out Sip of Hope; in fact, people travel from all over the world to meet Boucher, who does international speaking engagements. The café has welcomed visitors from Canada, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. As Boucher and I sit together, I overhear a woman chatting with a barista. “I’ve heard Jonny speak all over the country,” she says.

When you walk into Sip of Hope, you’ll first notice the sign that spans an entire wall with Hope for the Day’s trademark phrase: It’s OK not to be OK. With a cup ($2.50) of Dark Matter roast in hand, you can talk with one of 10 staff members about attending an educational workshop and pick up literature on mental health services. “Our staff are regular people just like me,” says Boucher. Training includes specific mental health education workshops to equip staff to have the conversations patrons are seeking and to act as a bridge to resources or education. Boucher and his team members meet to decompress after difficult conversations.

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The sign says it all: Sip of Hope is the first café in the world to donate 100 percent of its proceeds toward suicide prevention and mental health education.

Source Sip of Hope

Patrons don’t feel there is a stigma associated with visiting the café. Many regulars come simply for a good cup of coffee, but they also believe in the mission. And those seeking help know they’re among friends — a word Boucher uses with every patron. They might even get to meet therapy dog Tesla.

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The café’s aim is to help educate as many people as possible on mental health issues. The staff are all certified in mental health first aid.

Source Alamy

If you’re lucky, Boucher himself will be behind the counter — he’ll be the guy sporting double half-sleeve tattoos. Across his knuckles are eight letters: HAVE HOPE. When you walk up to the register to order, he’ll ask, “Hey, friend, how are you?” You can respond with a simple “Fine, thanks,” but don’t be surprised when he asks again, “Hey, how are you?” Just remember, in this space, it’s OK to say you’re not OK.

Sip of Hope is located at 3039 W. Fullerton Ave., in Chicago, and is open 6am–9pm daily.

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