These unique cafes brew community and inclusivity, adding to Durham’s buzzing coffee locales
By Leah Berry | Photography by John Michael Simpson
“By choosing to get coffee from 321, you’re part of a larger mission and a larger solution,” Lindsay Wrege says. She and Michael Evans co-founded 321 Coffee, a coffee shop that prioritizes employing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in 2017. The shop has grown significantly from its humble beginnings when the team would set up folding tables and a home coffee brewer anywhere in Raleigh that would welcome them; it’s now established a permanent presence at the State Farmers Market, along with two additional storefronts and Lindsay realized a long-time dream when 321 opened its doors in Durham in December 2022.
Situated in the dynamic Durham Innovation District, 321 Coffee embraces the Bull City’s socially progressive culture. The coffee shop’s location next to a captivating courtyard fosters a welcoming environment for community engagement.
The name “321” holds significant meaning, too, as it symbolizes Down syndrome, a genetic condition caused by three copies of the 21st chromosome. It reflects 321’s commitment to creating a safe and trusted environment where employees who have various disabilities gain valuable skills, confidence and self-belief. The shop’s distinctive decor, inspired by DNA mapping, celebrates the uniqueness of each team member and customer.
321 Coffee has gained recognition for its acclaimed in-house roasted coffee, particularly its cold brew. For non-coffee drinkers, it also serves mango iced tea, various brewed teas, chai lattes, hot chocolate and draft Homebucha kombucha. 321 sources its food items – notably its well-loved bear claws, but also sandwiches, salads, overnight oats and yogurt parfaits – from Ninth Street Bakery.
The shop reciprocates the community’s support by practicing sustainability, such as transitioning to backyard compostable coffee packaging, and partnering with organizations like Together We Stand NC, Reality Ministries, North Street Neighborhood and Duke University’s Canine Companions program. 321 Coffee has participated in this season’s Wednesday Durham Farmers Market as well as Third Friday Durham Art Walk, and also hosts a monthly food truck and mocktail event. The shop recently introduced a lunchtime karaoke series to enhance the lively atmosphere.
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, 321 Coffee continues to make its ground coffee accessible to customers nationwide by shipping to all 50 states. Moving forward, 321 aims to continue building community and create spaces and opportunities for people with disabilities to be recognized for their contributions, not only in the workforce, but also to society as a whole. “321 is all about taking a second to be present,” Lindsay says, “seeing people as people, getting to know one another and having fun, all while having a great cup of coffee in the process.”
A Warm Cup of Community
Omie’s Coffee Shop and Roastery is more than just a coffee destination; it’s a cherished neighborhood sanctuary. Addison Yarbrough, drawing inspiration from her paternal grandmother, Omie, who deeply believed in the transformative power of unconditional love, re-imagined the vacant tire shop adjoining King’s Red & White into a cozy cafe that opened in July 2022.
The coffee shop operates on a principle of never turning away customers, embracing Omie’s teachings of love and kindness. Addison’s vision was to build a space that nurtures community bonds and challenges the prevailing notion of exclusivity often associated with specialty coffee establishments.
It was important to Addison for Omie’s to be within walking distance of the Northgate Park and Braggtown neighborhoods where her family lives. “We are so grateful to be in this corner of Durham, and [we] recognize the hard work of Black and Brown folks who’ve made it what it is today: vibrant, welcoming, cool, a great place to raise a family [and pets] and love your friends,” she says.
Omie’s roasts its own coffee, which it carefully sources from small, mostly family-owned farms, in-house. A woman-owned business that prioritizes minimizing waste, Addison takes pride in paying her employees a living wage.
Addison’s passion for providing high-quality beverages shines through in every cup served at Omie’s. The cafe introduces new coffees and a fresh menu with each changing season. Among Addison’s favorites is the cold brew shandy – a refreshing blend of cold brew and Homestead Creamery lemonade.
Ninth Street Bakery supplies the delectable pastries, while tea comes from Ora Teahouse + Bakery, a Black woman-owned business in Durham. Omie’s also actively engages with the community by hosting “an art market with female/queer/ BIPOC vendors; beginning teachers’ support groups; community care meetings and concerts with local artists,” Addison says, “and we have plans for many more in 2023.”
Beyond coffee, the cafe supports and contributes to initiatives such as the HEART program, the Carolina Abortion Fund and various endeavors that support LGBTQ+ youth in Durham. It serves as a central hub for individuals passionate about improving their community and opposing forms of exclusion.
Looking ahead, “we want to be wary of quick growth to maintain the small, generous, neighborly vibe of the shop,” Addison says, adding that the goal is to “serve this neighborhood with more community events and give money to worthy causes that help create a safer, more inclusive Durham.”
After all, her Omie wouldn’t want it any other way.
Best of Both Worlds
The Daily Beer Bar, which opened downtown in December 2022, offers the opportunity to savor a silky, bold cortado and an experimental sour ale on draft, all within the span of a single day. Owners John Paradiso and Rosa Paradiso drew inspiration from European cafes, aiming to construct a distinct space that seamlessly transitions from an inviting cafe, perfect for work in the morning, to a lively beer and wine bar, ideal for socializing with friends in the evening.
Yonder Coffee operates as a pop-up within the cafe, synergizing in terms of service, staff and philosophy. Yonder Coffee was founded by Caleb Durham in 2018 and initially began as a global subscription service, introducing patrons across the United States to a new roaster from a different country each month. Customers at “Yonder at The Daily” can delight in filtered coffee as well as an extensive menu of espresso drinks and hot teas alongside seasonal specials and a monthly featured coffee from an international roaster.
The Daily Beer Bar’s draft menu also continuously evolves, showcasing some of the country’s finest breweries. Complementing the diverse beer selection is a thoughtfully curated assortment of wines available by the glass. The food menu offers a simple-yet-satisfying array of pastries and baked goods in the morning, while lunch and dinner options include sandwiches, salads and snacks.
The commitment to supporting fellow local businesses is of utmost importance at The Daily Beer Bar. Pastries, specialty cheeses and paper products are sourced from Durham-based enterprises including the Durham Co-op Market, Little Barb’s Bakery, Ninth Street Bakery, Loaf and Not Just Paper.
Creating a welcoming atmosphere is equally fundamental. “We wanted to build a space that was inclusive, supportive and comfortable for all,” John says. The shop boasts ample natural light, bright colors and comfortable furniture sourced from local thrift stores. It plays host to weekly events like bike rides with Rescue Racing, film screenings and tap takeovers with North Carolina breweries. Contributing to the community is also a priority for the owners, evident in collaborations with organizations like the Animal Protection Society of Durham, Bike Durham and the Durham Arts Council. Future plans for the space include art shows, acoustic music performances and additional partnerships with local organizations, while Caleb, John and Rosa aspire to continue to share their passion for specialty coffee, craft beer and natural wine for as long as possible.
Serving Up Adventure
It’s the perfect spot for a quiet read or a business meeting, or just a cup of joe to accompany you while shopping for camping gear.
Yonderlust Cafe is the brainchild of Kit Linton and Sonya Linton. The quaint coffee shop is housed within their store, Yonderlust, an adventure outfitters dedicated to promoting health and well-being through outdoor experiences with a particular emphasis on mental health. Congruent with the mission of their shop, the cafe provides nourishing food and beverages that sustain the body for daily adventures.
Patrons at Yonderlust Cafe can choose from an array of coffees, teas and espresso drinks along with freshly made juices, smoothies, grilled paninis and salads. Among the culinary highlights, Kit and Sonya say they take particular pride in their grilled ciabatta paninis and kale avocado salad.
“When you’re in the mood for an afternoon treat, try out our matcha latte with macadamia milk,” Kit says. The cafe partners with roaster Joe Van Gogh to offer a premium coffee experience and utilizes fresh produce from organic wholesale distributor Happy Dirt and Big Spoon Roasters’ nut butters.
Yonderlust is housed in a restored building in downtown’s Brightleaf Square district – you can easily spot it by locating the 60-foot octopus mural by artist Darius Quarles that Kit and Sonya commissioned on the exterior of the building. The interior exudes a warm ambiance thanks to the original exposed brick and natural wood materials, which were procured from local forests. Kit and Sonya are steadfast in their goal to create an inclusive atmosphere, emphasizing that Yonderlust is a LGBTQIA safe space. “We strongly believe that the outdoors is for everyone,” Kit says.
Although the cafe, which opened in February, is still in its nascent stages, Kit and Sonya have grand plans for its future. They envision hosting outdoor and community events starting toward the end of summer and have begun to establish relationships with educational institutions such as North Carolina Central University, NC State and Durham Public Schools, among others, in order to help teach young individuals about the manifold benefits of outdoor activities. They also aim to expand the food menu over time. “Our goal for the cafe is to become a downtown staple,” Kit says.