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Building Real Community

Jamie West Zumwalt and Joe’s Addiction Coffee House

Seventeen years ago, Jamie West Zumwalt and her husband, John, decided to open a coffee shop that would serve the kind of people that Jesus would have hung out with. This was no small task, and Jamie admits that they were initially met with some resistance by both their faith community and the community where they hoped to open shop. 

“It really required us to take a hard look at and reevaluate who we love, what we tolerate, what is considered sin,” she reflects. “It was a real learning process; I was very sheltered and became part of a world that was very different. I had no experience with addiction, prison, mental illness and poverty. But those were the situations that the people we wanted to serve were in.”

A pastor’s daughter, Jamie grew up in a very conservative world of Christianity.  As a young adult, she became very involved with overseas missionary work and married John, who was also a missionary. 

“John and I found ourselves in a situation where our faith was falling apart,” she explains. “It wasn’t doing the very thing that our faith was supposed to do. More and more, it seemed like the type of Christianity we were experiencing wasn’t actually loving and kind.”

Born out of what Jamie calls their “faith crisis,” they decided to run a social experiment. They sought to create a type of safe harbor in the larger world where members would take care of and love each other. This vision was brought to fruition when Joe’s Addiction coffee house opened in 2006. 

“We had a deep desire to create a community that really loves each other,” she adds. “We wanted to see if it was actually possible to live what Jesus taught and see if it would make a real difference.” 

Joe’s Addiction is more than your average coffee shop. While they offer a full menu of coffees, smoothies, teas and specialty drinks, all beverages are offered at whatever price the customer can afford.

Joe’s also creates and sustains a community made up of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, including many who are marginalized, experiencing homelessness, struggling with mental illness or addiction, or living in extreme poverty. 

“Some people come in and can’t pay for their drink, and then the next customer will pay $40 for a latte,” she says. “All profits go toward sustaining the community that the coffee shop serves.”

Joe’s Addiction serves home-cooked breakfast and lunch, and offers shower and laundry facilities to anyone in need. They also host a community garden, and offer special events throughout the year, ranging from free clinics to Thanksgiving dinner.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays, their Free Store offers clothing, household goods and other items at no cost.

“We want this place to feel like home. We serve food on a real plate, with real silverware,” she explains. “We also have a lot of rituals and traditions that we have created to bind us together as a community. The people who hang out at Joe’s have lots of uncertainty and instability, so it helps to have things that we do together every day.” 

Growing this community has not been without challenges, but Jamie says they have learned to adjust as they go. This persistence paid off, as the coffee house has become a safe place where up to 90 people come for breakfast and 120 come for lunch each day they serve. 

Reflecting, Jamie feels confident that their experiment has been a success.

“The answer is yes, it is possible to live how Jesus said, though not perfectly. It’s all about practicing, but it does make a difference. We want to form relationships and learn how to love each other. I started as an outsider, but now I am friends with people who are a lot different than me. It took lots of time to build that trust, but it’s there.”

And this trust and love, Jamie reflects, is what true community is all about.

Visit outrageous.love to see how you can support their community, provide grocery items, or volunteer in support of their mission. Clothing or household goods donations can also be made to the Free Store during normal operating hours. 

Joe's Addiction,1725 SE 59th St. in Oklahoma City, is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (8 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Saturday-Sunday (9 a.m.-4 p.m.).  FMI, call 405.768-5161 or email joesaddiction@gmail.com.

“We had a deep desire to create a community that really loves each other. We wanted to see if it was actually possible to live what Jesus taught and see if it would make a real difference.” 

“Some people come in and can’t pay for their drink, and then the next customer will pay $40 for a latte. All profits go toward sustaining the community that the coffee shop serves.”

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