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Win Win Coffee Bar is a tucked-away, uniquely local experience built with creatives in mind. Longtime friends and co-owners Matt Namaste and Nikisha Bailey draw inspiration from the people and the culture of Philadelphia’s traditionally Black, but steadily gentrifying, neighborhoods of Spring Garden and Callowhill.
For Bailey, an executive with Artist Partners Group/Atlantic Records, elevating the arts has always been key. Singer-songwriters, producers, and poets navigating the confusing nature of legal rights and ownership of their created works often don’t feel safe sharing. Bailey's changing that.
“I love the arts,” says Bailey, 33. “With Win Win, we wanted to provide an open and judgement-free environment where people could share their art. A space to come together, network, brainstorm, create, or just talk over coffee, a beer, or a sandwich — a safe space and an opportunity for the community and for creatives.”
Win Win — or “W/N W/N” for waste not, want not — is also about sustainability, Namaste explained. “The food is organically and locally grown. We don’t use artificial ingredients. From the cocktails to the coffee to the food — everything is fresh.”
Namaste and Bailey are building an intentional community that recognizes and values authenticity. “We want to represent that, throughout the entire space, in everything that we do,” says Namaste.
Win Win incubates, grows strong, and reproduces in a hyper-local ecosystem — a hat tip to Namaste’s biotech background. “From our [locally, hand-crafted] plates to the art on the wall to the DJs that we bring in, [Win Win] is a very cozy, comfortable place where even the syrups are made in-house, and the primary focus is local artistry.”
We saw opportunities to serve and to grow while providing jobs for people in the community, and we’re hoping that we can inspire others to see that it’s possible to be young, own something, and be able to help your community.
But creativity, comfort, and farm-to-table food isn’t all that Win Win is about. As Black people in America again find themselves at the center of a historically significant moment, the time we’re living in demands much more.
In the last few months alone, the sense of disregard for Black life has been displayed in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick, Georgia, in George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville both murdered by police, and in Amy Cooper’s skillful manipulation of white privilege aimed at a Black man in New York’s Central Park, setting off “protests and marches and calls for equity in various communities, specifically the Black community,” says Namaste. “So, I think Win Win means much more now.”
At just 28 years old, he’s been shielded from the offense and memory of LAPD’s racist attack on another young Black man, Rodney King, in 1991.
Today, the issue of racial injustice has rightfully joined the pandemic at the top of the national agenda. COVID-19, which to date has taken the lives of over 145,000 people in the US, has pulled back the curtain to reveal various long-standing structural disparities intended to negatively impact Black communities. Around the world, and throughout Philly’s riverfront neighborhoods typically abuzz with entertainment and dining this time of year, COVID-19 determines a lot about the viability, direction, and success of Black-owned businesses.
“In terms of how food and beverage is transforming right now, it’s going through a massive revolution,” Namaste says, pointing to delivery service apps that help to push mostly fast food out to customers. “At Win Win, we take our time to care and source and to make these foods for our customers. I don’t know what spaces like that are going to look like in the next couple weeks or months, or a year.”
Namaste and Bailey, like everyone trying to plan for the future, have been thrown off course by the pandemic. Namaste says it’s the marketplace that will dictate what Win Win will become.
But, when you’re Black, he added, it’s the Amy Coopers of the world that decide if you become. “There are so many Amy Coopers out there who are not giving people a voice, not giving people an opportunity to grow and rise,” says Namaste. “This is why I think it’s absolutely important that more Black people be business owners – to consolidate our voices. This is what’s going to uplift the community.”
And financial literacy, Bailey added, is an important skill that hadn’t been introduced in her youth. “During this pandemic, I think a lot of people have learned what they can and can’t live without – where their money needs to go,” she says. She’d like to see Black people become more concerned with their financial futures, starting young to educate themselves and one another.
There are so many Amy Coopers out there who are not giving people a voice, not giving people an opportunity to grow and rise. This is why I think it’s absolutely important that more Black people be business owners – to consolidate our voices. This is what’s going to uplift the community.
Grateful to her partner and crediting his influence, Bailey recalls when the business was advertised for sale by the prior owner, when Namaste brought the idea to her. “We saw opportunities to serve and to grow while providing jobs for people in the community, and we’re hoping that we can inspire others to see that it’s possible to be young, own something, and be able to help your community.” Win Win re-opened under their new partnership in June 2019.
When asked how they manage to spend time at the restaurant and attend to other professional obligations, Namaste replied, chuckling, “I’m Jamaican. I never have just one job.” And whether by character or habit, Bailey is persistent. “I worked my way from intern to VP of a major label in 10 years. I don’t sleep.” She says aborting the mission just isn’t an option.
The young restaurateurs offer advice for Black people considering opening a business in the food industry. Bailey strongly encourages vetting consultants that you might bring on. She says lessons learned through letdowns encouraged her to trust herself about what’s best for her business.
“We had to become very hands-on. We both took time off work to make sure we were there, interacting with our community, being there for our staff, and we grew, as owners, with the business.” It paid off quickly. “The way we operated in the first month was different from the way we operated six months in, eight months in. It really becomes you, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” says Bailey.
But Namaste thinks a little fear is healthy. “As a Black business [owner] you have to be afraid to make a mistake. Many Black people don’t really have that social or financial ‘safety net’ to bounce back up [from a mistake], whereas other communities, where I think that phrase was coined, may.” He advises extra due diligence: “As a Black business owner, sometimes you only get one [chance].”
Win Win Coffee Bar, located at 931 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia PA is open for takeout and delivery, operating on a modified schedule due to COVID-19.