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Black Coffee Northwest opening delayed by arson, but ‘heart of the place is alive’

(Photo courtesy of Black Coffee Northwest on Facebook)

For aspiring business owners, there is nothing more exciting — and perhaps terrifying — than opening the doors for the first time. That’s what Darnesha Weary had been looking forward to last week as it has been a lifetime dream for her family to open a Black-owned coffee shop. But those plans, unfortunately, were delayed after someone tried to set fire to their building in Shoreline.

Weary is the Operations Director of Black Coffee Northwest, and co-owner of the business with her husband, Erwin. The Weary family purchased the building and jumped right in about three months ago.

“The idea for this space is we’ve been doing … community activism and community organizing work for about 20 years,” she said. “We’ve been around different spaces and places and hosted events, a voter registration drive, and mostly youth centered events. And so this place was just really a place to call that work home.”

Having previously been working out of their garage, the Wearys are excited to have Black Coffee Northwest become a community hub.

“That’s what this place is, a community hub, a gathering space for people to come, have good conversation, have good coffee,” Weary said. “We want you to come for coffee and leave charged up about something, you know, that you’re passionate about, something right now, just in the community.”

Unfortunately, the opening was pushed back after someone attempted to burn down the building over the weekend in the early hours of the morning.

“Someone decided that they were going to burn the building down and threw some bricks and Molotov cocktails and tried to break through the window,” Weary recounted. “They were unsuccessful breaking through the window and there were like four bricks thrown, so they really tried. When they weren’t successful with that, they went over to the gas line and pushed a whole bunch of plants and just trash … and tried to set the gas line on fire.”

That’s when someone called 911.

“Just the intentionality to find someone going to the gas line, and you could see them on video trying really hard to burn it down, that’s the part that really hurts the most is that it wasn’t by mistake, that someone really tried to intentionally burn our place down,” she said.

The initial reaction, Weary said, was shock, sadness, and frustration.

“I cried. And I didn’t cry for the physical space, right? Because we can replace that. I cried for our community because this is the space for them,” she said.

“What it did, though, after we got through the initial shock, and I never thought we’d have to be talking to an arson investigator before we even opened the doors, or never thought we had to be talking about extra security before we even opened the doors. Though what it really did is the community rallied behind us,” she continued. “The heart of the place is alive, right? Like the heart, and the passion, and the why we’re there is alive and well, and our community came together and they did a chalk protest.”

People wrote messages in chalk all around the building, and Weary says people have been driving by and through the parking lot to look and to keep an eye on the business.

“We had a voter registration drive planned for Oct. 17 with the NAACP, and we’re doing a mock voter registration drive for kids,” Weary said. “… And in that moment I’m like, we’re still going to do that. If we have to do that on ashes, if we have to continue to do this work in this community with nothing, because we started with nothing, then we’re going to keep doing it with nothing. The physical space in that moment meant less to me than the fact that our community came together and the community understands why we’re there.”

Weary says she grew up in Lynnwood and never had Black teachers, never saw Black people in positions of leadership either at her schools or in city leadership.

“I want to do that for our youth now, that they know that they could open a business, that whatever comes their way they can overcome that, even in this time when there’s a pandemic,” she said.

“We have a bunch of youth that are coming right along with us. Youth are the ones that run our social media. Youth are the ones that are helping us set up all of our accounting, like we have them a part of every piece of this work because I want to show them and be the example that you could be an entrepreneur too,” she added. “And it’s not fun all the time. It’s dirty, it’s hard, but you can do it.”

Weary’s 17-year-old daughter is the president of the business.

“She’s the president of this business intentionally because I want to teach her that she can be a woman, she can be a Black woman, and she can be an entrepreneur,” Weary said. “And I want her to learn this lesson. I wanted to go through this now while she’s young and while she has a support system around her, because I want her to know that she can do whatever she wants to do in this world as long as she just puts her mind to it and does it.”

“But also that she understands what obstacles are ahead of her,” she added. “She is doing a fantastic job of being the president, and we still follow chain of command. I ask her before we do things and we make sure we’re all in this together.”

Black Coffee Northwest will hold a soft opening Saturday, Oct. 10, at 12 p.m.

“We’re going to open up, and we’re going to start serving coffee. We’re serving Boon Boona Coffee — shoutout to Efrem at Boon Boona in Renton,” Weary said. “They’ve come down and they helped us out. People just jumped in and helped us out. It’s an amazing display of community.”

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