St. James Coffee, a Rochester shop that offers a unique blend of coffee and Catholic faith, looked down to its last cup of java a month ago.

The little coffee shop, adorned with portraits of Christ's apostles, had shut its doors in March, like businesses across the state, to flatten the coronavirus curve. Many thought Gov. Tim Walz's emergency order would last only a couple of weeks. But two weeks stretched into two months. And by late June, the coffee shop was in financial peril.

Located in the Cedarwood Plaza in Northwest Rochester, the shop had opened in 2012, the brainchild of The Rev. Matt Fasnacht, then a pastor of Pax Christi Church across the street. It was envisioned as a welcoming space away from a church building for people to sip coffee, discuss their faith and pray. It was not an expensively run enterprise. Except for its manager, Melissa Scaccio, the work staff were all volunteers.

Melissa Scaccio, operations manager at St. James Coffee, gets a pastry for a customer Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at the coffee shop in Rochester. St. James Coffee is a non-profit coffee Christian coffeehouse. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Melissa Scaccio, operations manager at St. James Coffee, gets a pastry for a customer Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at the coffee shop in Rochester. St. James Coffee is a non-profit coffee Christian coffeehouse. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
The shop relied on events like its annual BrewHaha fundraiser to balance its books, but that event was canceled due to the pandemic.

Suddenly, St. James Coffee was in a hole, with just enough funds to last until August.

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"We don't have very high costs to stay open. But they are significant enough where it's hard to make ends meet with $4 cups of coffee," said Katherine Letellier, board president of St. James.

But rather than shut the doors for good, the shop's operators decided to make one last appeal. They would let the public have the final say. They started a GoFundMe page. They reached out to area media. And after a news segment on St. James' financial straits aired on television, the "floodgates" opened," Letellier said.

Melissa Scaccio, operations manager at St. James Coffee, helps customer, Mary Bruns Pyfferoen, of Rochester, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at the coffee shop in Rochester. St. James Coffee is a non-profit coffee Christian coffeehouse. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Melissa Scaccio, operations manager at St. James Coffee, helps customer, Mary Bruns Pyfferoen, of Rochester, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at the coffee shop in Rochester. St. James Coffee is a non-profit coffee Christian coffeehouse. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
The next day, the shop was "full of life" and filled with people, Letellier said. People came in to drink coffee and write checks. Customers who hadn't been to St. James in months returned. Those who had never heard about it patronized it for the first time.

The donations that poured in – an estimated $8,000 – brought the shop back from the precipice.

"It is so gratifying," Letellier said. "I was overwhelmed simply because the response was so sudden. It was literally a response to prayers."

St. James Coffee's mission makes the place unique among coffee shops. The main area mixes traditional offerings like cookies and pastries with Catholic iconography and symbolism. Pictures of the apostles, not as haloed saints but as regular people, decorate the walls. In the back is a candle-brightened chapel for people to pray.

"When they're done, they literally leave God's presence, re-enter the world, grab their coffee and go off to work," Letellier said.

When the shop was closed in March, volunteers, expecting it to re-open soon, repainted and remodeled the interior and gave the whole shop a thorough cleaning.

St. James Coffee is not out of the woods yet, Letellier said. Finances are still precarious. But the shop's horizons have brightened enough to imagine a future. A re-opening is planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 25, with a silent auction and a history of the shop presented by Fasnacht.

"We're still in survival mode in the sense that I can't yet look beyond next May (when their annual fundraiser is held), Letellier said. "We're hoping that generates enough revenue for us to stay open."

Melissa Scaccio, operations manager at St. James Coffee, makes a drink for a customer Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at the coffee shop in Rochester. St. James Coffee is a non-profit coffee Christian coffeehouse. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Melissa Scaccio, operations manager at St. James Coffee, makes a drink for a customer Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at the coffee shop in Rochester. St. James Coffee is a non-profit coffee Christian coffeehouse. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)