Where recovery meets community: Renovated Stella Maris Coffee Shop is a sober place for a cup of joe

A newly renovated coffee shop on the west bank of The Flats has deep ties to the Stella Maris recovery community in Ohio City. With the shop connected to the organization’s detox center, it has always been focused on treating those grappling with drug and alcohol addiction through healthcare and community support.

“The coffee shop in its present form has been around since 2004,” says Daniel Lettenberger-Klein, Stella Maris CEO, who notes that the shop was originally set up in the back of an old garage. “This coffee shop has a long tie with the recovery community and meetings associated with it.”

Stella Maris Coffee ShopDuring the pandemic, the coffee shop had to shut down—also closing to 43 weekly 12-step meetings with about 1,500 clients. But the time gave Stella Maris officials to rethink the small coffee shop’s purpose.

“We saw closing all these down during the pandemic was incredibly unfortunate,” says Lettenberger-Klein. “But it was also an opportunity for us to refocus on our mission down here—to make sure we’re a coffee shop with a purpose, a place where we could address stigma, we could create safety, but also build upon the community that was so beautifully present there before.”

The shop was renovated and reopened in April. It seats 50, and guests can view locally made artwork while enjoying a drink and a snack. Notable menu items are classic coffee and tea drinks that include red eyes, chai lattes, and cappuccinos. And Lettenberger-Klein reports the campus is back to hosting about 20 meetings a week and continues to ramp up.

The artwork on the walls was done by Ohio City-based Glass Bubble Project. Staff members at the glass blowing company taught clients of Stella Maris how to weld and blow glass. Clients used their new-found artistic skills to create the images on the walls, including a peace symbol, a boat and an AA bridge.

Originally a single building, Stella Maris was set up in 1948 by a St. Malachi Church priest and Alcoholics Anonymous members. The agency was intended to serve as a place of aid to those struggling with the damages that alcohol had placed on their lives.

Stella Maris experienced gradual growth over the past 74 years, and today it has grown into four buildings onsite and three buildings offsite that offer a wide range of services, including inpatient about outpatient recovery services, family counseling, and supportive housing.

The coffee shop is connected to the outpatient recovery center at 1302 Washington Ave. Anyone is welcome to walk into the shop, every day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. for a coffee or tea drink, a snack, or just good company. The shop sells coffee, cappuccino, and espresso drinks made with Solstice Roasters and tea drinks with  Storehouse Tea—both based in Cleveland. The shop also offers free parking and free Wi-Fi.

Upon walking in, visitors first see the countertop coffee bar. The bar is one of the highlights of the shop experience—with 6,000 recovery coins, recognition symbols for alumni and staff who made their way through the Stella Maris program and achieved sobriety.

Current Stella Maris program participants work at the coffee shop to gain employment experience. The workforce training component trains Stella Maris clients to be baristas, learn about food safety, money management, customer service, and marketing. 

“They’re taking time to really get accustomed back into society,” explains coffee shop manager Kathleen Shea. “They’re relearning how to do customer service and help people.”
 
Stella Maris is one of the oldest nonprofit detox centers in the country. When Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded in Akron in 1935, a lot of the early AA founders were also associated with Stella Maris.

“Being the oldest addiction center in the region, in the city, and the state, we have been long-tied to the recovery community in terms of AA and other community meetings,” says Lettenberger-Klein.

The campus’ on-site buildings have a range of functions for individuals coming into the program. Their journeys begin in the newly constructed Central Intake that houses detoxification and primary medical services. Below Central Intake is the kitchen and cafeteria, which dishes out about 400 meals per day. The “Dorm” provides inpatient beds for adult males.

Along with collaborating with several medical centers in the area, Stella Maris used local sights to give the coffee shop a distinct feel of Cleveland. The Glass Bubble Project, while overseeing the creation the artwork, also designed the light fixtures in the shop. Pews in the coffee shop were recommissioned from the former Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church in Tremont that closed down in 2015 (and is reopening as the Elliot this fall).

The organization also bought the former Matt Talbot Inn in Tremont, which will be the first all-gender drug and alcohol treatment center in the region. This means there will be 32 nonbinary beds for patients of all gender identities. This project is in partnership with the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland.

The future looks bright for Stella Maris and its clients and services continue to return.

“The idea of recovery is literally right upstairs. It’s in the front door, it’s in the auditorium where we have meetings,” says Lettenberger-Klein. He says he hopes a coffee shop will also be a safe space for everyone to gather and discover new people and resources.

“The message is there are places for you,” he says. “Stella Maris is a place, a coffee shop specifically, that can be the front door for people who may not be ready. It’s a safe place for people to come from 8 in the morning to 9 at night in a sober, safe place. For a person interested in recovery or not, it can be lifesaving.”

Read more articles by Evan Gallagher.

Evan Gallagher has always loved writing and using his creative side for a career is a dream come true. A self-proclaimed news junkie, Gallagher passionately keeps up with current events. When he’s not writing, he enjoys running, playing guitar and keyboard, and spending time with friends.  Gallagher is a journalism major, specializing in news and information, at the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Gallagher is the director of PR/social media for The New Political, one of OU’s online publications, and writes for All Campus Public Radio (ACRN).