Change in Cafe scenery

Kansas City’s local shops have learned to cope with business potholes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic by offering increased outdoor dining areas that offer customers safe study spaces outside of their homes.


Barista Haley Wilson makes a customer’s coffee on Sept. 28. Employees keeping a mask on, making sure to follow the new rules the Roasterie has put in place for COVID-19. Photo by Grace Ashley.

by Mara Callahan, Lifestyles Editor

STA alumna Morgan Bene walked into the Roasterie at the beginning of July not quite knowing what to expect. Just a few weeks earlier she had been scrambling through Nice Côte d’Azur airport searching for the right terminal for her flight back to Kansas City. Bene was teaching abroad in France when COVID-19 began to affect the U.S. When schools throughout the world began to close, Bene’s family suggested she come home early. Luckily she found a flight and made it home, but once she was back in KC, she needed to find a job. 

Being a barista wasn’t Bene’s original plan, but she leaned into the curve life threw at her and has been working at the Roasterie’s Southwest Boulevard location for about three months. The diverse client base at the cafe allows Bene to interact with interesting people and make little friendships throughout her workday. Bene supports the Roasterie’s decision to stay open throughout the pandemic because she thinks they’ve been adamant about safety protocols and considers the cafe a safe place to study.

“I think that they were pretty smart about all their moves,” Bene said. “The furniture was placed far apart and there weren’t that many people taking the option to dine in any way so we weren’t overwhelmed and people didn’t seem to be uncomfortable. [When customers chose the option of dining in] we were doing to-go cups and we were really, really adamant about masks. And that aspect, the masks, have stuck around which is good. I think it’s been a good decision for them, especially because it kept people coming in and kept us afloat.”

Along with allowing customers dine-in options, the Roasterie’s Southwest Boulevard location has managed to keep business up through other commercial aspects.

“With our location, we can make coffee and deliver it all around the country; so even though you can’t come in and buy coffee you can still buy our bags of beans,” Bene said. “We actually have a drive-thru attached to the factory, and at the beginning of the pandemic we were one of the few places where people could get specialty coffee in the city, so our revenue was actually through the roof during that time and since people found out about it it’s kept the revenue up at that location as well.”

Other local Kansas City coffee shops have taken advantage of outdoor dining throughout the pandemic. Hi-Hat coffee shop off of State Line has created a unique set up with its 245 square feet of business and utilizes its large outdoor patio area for customers to easily pick up their daily cup of coffee.

“Inside, believe it or not, there are five chairs and a little bar counter that runs up on the perimeter of the inside but there’s mainly outdoor seating,” Founder T Jensen said. “[Hi-Hat] is such a grab and go kind of place anyway and people don’t seem to have too much of a big deal when they can’t get a seat. We took all the tables and chairs away from inside the shop and we took all of the tables and chairs outside away. We only allow two people, maximum inside and we have hand sanitizer available. We didn’t have any seating but customers were so good about coming by.”

Hi-Hat’s 21 years of business has offered it plenty of time to develop a loyal following, many of which continued frequently stopping by the shop throughout the pandemic. Jensen has seen that if you are reasonable and talk to people in a caring way, things seem to turn out for the better.

“You’re always changing and you’re looking for ways to adapt because no single day is like the same day before it,” Jensen said. “You get really good at being proactive. You know as the little guy we’re still pushing through this and there’s not a whole lot of advantages of only having 245 square feet of business besides its charm, but we’ve just stepped right through [any obstacles] in a nice, orderly, respectful way. We just looked at them as an opportunity to turn it into a positive thing.”

Jensen says he gets a wide variety of customers from all around the Kansas City area, including a lot of plaid skirts after 3:00 p.m.

“The Pembroke kids are supportive and we get people who meet [at the shop] just to talk, people come down after their workouts up at Woodside, and we see a lot of baby carriages,” Jensen said. “That’s really one of the charms of the whole place. If it was all 20-somethings that wouldn’t be great and if it was all 60 year olds it wouldn’t be great but it’s all ages, all kinds, you know, from every corner.”

Senior Beatrice Curry hasn’t been to Hi-Hat but has utilized other local coffee shops’ study spaces as a way to get out of the house during COVID-19. Being in an art portfolio class, Curry spends a good amount of her after-school time drawing, and finding a quiet study space with good lighting is a must for her.  Curry highly recommends the Filling Station in Midtown to any STA students who are looking for a safe, out-of-the-house place to work. 

“I think that it is very important for people to have space outside of their homes that is quiet to work in because sometimes your family can be distracting or you just need a change of scenery,” Curry said. “And I think that if there is a dine-in option that’s possible, and if you can be there safely, I would encourage it. [The Filling Station] has a pretty big outdoor seating area, and it’s pretty interesting visually. They have sculptures outside, and I think it’s just a nice and cool space. The Filling Station is open until six so you have plenty of time to do work there. And it’s never too crowded, the chairs are outside and they’re distanced. If you want it to sit inside there, there are a few seats and it’s a big enough space with a lot of airflows.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a new spin on “claustrophobia” by emphasizing self-isolation. Following social distancing protocols plays an immense role in keeping those around us physically healthy but can weaken our own “mental immune systems” by increasing stress and anxiety levels. The opening of coffee shops has offered a safe and healthy way for communities to cope with the unsteadiness of the pandemic.

“As good as it is to stay away from people, do more social distancing and stay at home as much as you can; it’s nice to be able to get out of my house and go to work every day,” Bene said. “I’m really lucky that I even got a job during the pandemic. I know being cramped up inside can cause a little cabin fever, so the Roasterie has been a fun place to work at. Just being able to get to go out and talk to people and talk to my coworkers lifts my mood.”