A rainbow Christmas tree, greeting cards for the LGBTQIA+ community, and colorful mugs produced by LGBTQIA+ artists decorate the inside of Curiosity Coffee Bar located in Elmwood Park. They're an integral part of both the business and the inclusive community that the owners aspire to build, according to owner Sandra Moscato.
These products are the owners' way of showing the store is a welcoming space. An inclusive community is what owners Greg Slattery and Moscato had in mind when they opened the store in 2017. It was their mission to combine good food and drink with a community space, they said.
“If you want to be a space for a community, then you have to do things specifically to let them know they are accepted and let them know that they are loved and appreciated in the space,” Slattery said. “And that it goes beyond just not hating someone. It's actively going out of your way to find ways to engage with the community that you want to feel safe.”
Inclusion and representation are highlighted at every turn. When stocking the shelves, LGBTQIA+ artists are featured and Slattery curates books that highlight cultural issues. Pride-related stickers sit next to the register — they're hugely popular, according to manager Abigail Moellering.
“You'll get rural, Southern, little-old-ladies coming in, buying up all these stickers that say like ‘Queer Visibility’ and (they will) say that they're gonna put them in their grandkids' stockings,” Moellering said.
Yet, the draw of the Coffee Bar is the food and beverage items. Moscato notes that the staff likes to use Pride as a theme in the recipe and drink development. Little things like taking the time to do rainbow icing are a fun way to express Pride, according to Slattery.
“(The staff can) put themselves out there as far as bakers and baristas and their identity,” Moscato said. “We're gonna put that out there, and it might upset some of our community, but we know it's important to be who we are.”
While conscious decisions come into play when making menu choices, many staffers are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, so accepting choices come naturally.
“I think we just have a very queer staff in just a very general use of the word,” Slattery said.
This isn't just another instance of rainbow washing, which is the practice of signaling acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community without real action, they said. Slattery said they avoid hosting Pride-specific events to avoid exploiting the very idea of Pride.
"In place of that, doing events throughout the year that support that community because it's a community that we feel part of," Slattery said.
While a welcoming environment for customers is important, making employees feel seen can go a long way, according to Moellering.
Moellering started including pronouns next to names in the schedule at Curiosity as one step towards active acceptance of LGBTQIA+ customers and staff. Moellering sees this as a way to make a more welcoming workplace in an industry with notoriously high turnover rates.
Coffee culture may even lend itself to a culture of acceptance. Coffee shops are often times full of creative types and art-focused folks, who are predisposed to curiosity, according to Moscato.
“Obviously, coffee comes from all different countries across the world, that there's something if you're diving into coffee you have to have a curiosity of other cultures,” Moscato said. “That creates an openness when you have a just general curiosity about things.”
Curiosity, unsurprisingly, is a common theme at Curiosity Coffee Bar. This extends itself into special events that bring in outside groups to share art, games, trivia and food.
“The Black Nerd Mafia events that we do constantly throughout the month often are highlighting queer and feminine and LGBTQ artists within the city that, I think, have less of an opportunity to voice their art,” Slattery said.
The space serves as a conduit for exploration in any form. Partnerships with groups like the Black Nerd Mafia and Columbia area food trucks allow Curiosity Coffee Bar to extend past coffee.
“There has to be some way to pay the bills, at the end,” Slattery said. “For us, this is kind of a journey … finding ways to emphasize important cultural and historical moments through food and beverage as a way to remind us and to encourage us to explore beyond just what we grew up knowing.”