Meet The Women Behind A Black-Owned Coffee Shop Brewing Up Culture And Creating Community

Sip and Sonder

Malaika Jabali Jul, 03, 2018

While practicing law at the same firm in New York City, Amanda-Jane Thomas and Shanita Nicholas became friends. Eventually, the two women would also be business partners. Their dreams and passions converged into the creation of Sip & Sonder, an Inglewood, California café geared towards Black and Brown creatives and entrepreneurs.

In a world where people of color are criminalized and harassed for merely existing in public spaces, Sip & Sonder offers a breath of fresh air, and a host of other goodies too. In addition to providing locally sourced coffee from a Black-owned roasting company, the café sells its branded merchandise, small goods from local entrepreneurs, and it is home to the Sonder House Studios, a creative lab for music recording and visual content creation. ESSENCE spoke with Amanda and Shanita about their emerging, timely community space.

Sip and Sonder

What made you decide to start Sip & Sonder?

“Shanita’s goal was to provide the startup community access to business and networks while drinking coffee,” Amanda shares with ESSENCE. “For me, there weren’t many coffee shops growing up in Brooklyn in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and my interactions with the ones that I did visit were almost as an outsider, never feeling truly at home, sipping coffee, taking in the smells and sights, lost in my own thoughts. It was clear to both of us that, for myriad reasons, our community needed a space like Sip & Sonder: it was a response to the great amount of talent and creativity in the community, lack of outlets for expansive expression, and hurried gentrification that ultimately led to disgruntlement and displacement. Upon moving to Los Angeles, we found that Inglewood and the surrounding area was where Black culture was thriving, unadulterated.  That was also around the time it was announced that a new NFL stadium housing the Rams and Chargers would be built in the middle of the city, reminiscent of similar buildouts in other cities across the country, including Brooklyn. We immediately knew that Inglewood would be Sip & Sonder’s flagship home.”   

What’s the vibe of your coffee shop?

Sip & Sonder is loud, complex, beautiful, intellectual, creative, Black, unapologetic, warm, raw, uplifting, aggressive, top quality, premier, genuine, and safe. It’s a place where “sonder”—the realization that everyone around you is living a life as complex as your own—can truly happen. Sip & Sonder is not taking from or giving to the culture—it is just existing in and BEING the culture, without a reason or gimmick. Sip & Sonder is the existence of the Black lifestyle housed in a coffee shop.

What is your favorite beverage at Sip and Sonder?

According to Shanita, her favorite beverage is the Oat Milk Latte.

“We decided to offer specific offerings of milk and milk alternatives that toe the line of being conscious of what our community is consuming but also not forcing unknown or unwanted products on our community,” she says. 

Where do you source your coffee?

Sip & Sonder sources its coffee from Red Bay Coffee, a Black-owned roastery in Oakland, CA.

Who is your customer?

Our customer is anyone looking for a coffee shop experience and community that is genuine, accessible, empowering, and inspiring, while providing top quality products. 

Do you have other goods and retailers available at the coffee shop?

Yes! In addition to coffee and tea, we also serve pastries and other food products, as well as Sip & Sonder merchandise and small goods such as candles and cards from local entrepreneurs in and around Los Angeles. We have been very intentional in selecting the vendors we work with and the products we serve to ensure that they are aligned with Sip & Sonder’s voice and philosophy.

From where do you source your coffee?

Sip & Sonder sources its coffee from Red Bay Coffee, a Black-owned roastery in Oakland, CA.

How would you describe your store or brand’s design aesthetic?

It was important to us that Sip & Sonder be beautiful, inviting, and inspiring. The 14-foot high ceilings and industrial-feel of our space gave us a blank canvas to create the exact aesthetic we wanted. We drew a significant amount of influence from one of the team’s favorite artists, Patrick Eugene, who’s been described as an emerging force in abstract expressionism. We worked with an amazing interior designer, Amanda Boyance, who really brought our vision to life.   

Sip and Sonder

How do you think your business services the community?

Our tagline is “For the Community. For the Culture.” Our business attempts to be a reflection of the community.  We are intentional in making sure the space is open to allow the community to mold it into what is needed. While we are a for-profit business, we ensure our presence is giving economic opportunities to other individuals in the community through collaborative content creation on events and intentional vendor opportunities. What we’re doing is placemaking—tapping into the community’s assets, inspiration, and potential to create a public space that contributes to the community’s health, happiness, and well-being.

Your kickstarter mentioned that you would also build a recording studio in the space. Tell us more about that. Is there anything else the coffee shop will feature? (e.g. events, food, etc.).

We are thrilled to announce Sonder House Studios (SHS), a technology oasis at the intersection of cultural realism and technology. The SHS creative lab, which is housed in Sip & Sonder, will provide artists with a space for music recording, visual content creation, and design modeling using state-of-the-art virtual reality and other cutting-edge technology. SHS is the future of music and visual learning, creation, and production. Sip & Sonder also produces events that range from musical performances, private events, workshops, and panels, to game nights, comedy shows, and so much more! We also have various programs and partnerships—for example, with brands, influencers, nonprofits, and community organizations—which are at the core of why Sip & Sonder exists. In addition to coffee and tea, we source pastries, muffins, and Jamaican patties (an ode to Amanda-Jane’s Caribbean roots)!

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as an independent business and as a Black female entrepreneur?

Where do we begin?! Every day we learn a new lesson, but perhaps one of the biggest lessons is the importance of having a strong idea of what you and your business stand for early on, as this is necessary to maintain the intended culture and community. Having this continued understanding and discussion of our values has been invaluable as we continue to grow. Other big lessons include having patience with and trust in the process of building, and that there can never be too much emphasis on the importance of operations and efficiency. As Black women, we are continually reminded of the importance of representation—the surprised, happy, and proud faces that emerge when we state that we are the owners of Sip & Sonder inspires us and makes us work all the more harder. 

Being an entrepreneur can be exhausting; how do you make time for yourself to recharge?

Amanda tells ESSENCE: “We each try to remind ourselves often, and each other, to make sure that we’re taking personal time for ourselves. It can be difficult to separate ourselves as individuals that need self-care from our business that is so dear to us, but we know that doing so is necessary for sustainability. The fact that we are still both practicing attorneys makes this effort even harder. I try to carve out Sundays as my ‘day of rest / me time’ as much as possible, and find that prayer and meditation keeps me going on a daily basis when everything gets overwhelming. Shanita carves-out time to practice yoga as much as possible and also tries to meditate when she gets overwhelmed. Shanita’s biggest recharge, however, usually comes on Friday night with Thai food, red wine and a movie on the couch!”

Sip & Sonder will celebrate its grand opening with a Black Coffee Block Party on Saturday, August 25, 2018. You can join their mailing list here. Sip & Sonder will be open Monday through Friday 8am-6pm, and Saturdays 10am-3pm.