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Cleveland Inner-City Church Transforms Former Bar into Coffee House

Opening its doors in September 2023, the long-time dream of one Ohio church opening a coffee house inside of a former bar was finally realized.

An inner-city Assemblies of God church in Cleveland is brewing a new ministry in a place where alcohol used to flow.

In September, the Meeting Place Church (TMPC) opened the Tavern Coffee House in the former location of a bar that was in business for more than 30 years.

"The mission of the coffee house is strong coffee, stronger careers, strongest community," explains U.S. missionary Bob I. Willard, 62, who pastors TMPC and is assisted by his wife Judy, 61. "We are not just about selling coffee, but using coffee to connect with people. We do this in two ways," he says. 

"First, we are in the process of hiring young people (from age 14 to 25) to provide career training and discipling them in the process," he adds. "Not only will they have a paid position but we will help them find their calling and give them the tools to succeed. Next, we care about the community. We engage the community in spiritual provoking questions and provide them a safe, non-alcoholic space."

In 2017, Cuyahoga County Land Bank donated to the church a nearby foreclosed building, which housed the bar that had been vacant for about 25 years. It took several missions teams to get it fully cleaned and ready for construction in December 2019. But three months later, work came to a halt due to the global pandemic as several missions teams scheduled were canceled for almost two years.

"God showed us the importance of faithfulness and endurance through the whole process," recalls Willard, a U.S. missionary with Intercultural Ministries.

"When we were short on funds due to increased costs, it took a simple prayer and God provided. Also through our waiting for the city, we realized we needed to improve our coffee. Through some experimenting, we found a formula that works and people love our lattes."

In its first month, the coffee house served about 150 people. TMPC gives 10 percent of sales to missionaries and the church matches tips received in order to donate to a local nonprofit.

"I believe the tavern impact on the community is just beginning," says Willard, who moved with his wife and their four children to Cleveland in 2010. "We recently hosted a community project opening conversations about health directives for our people. It's a really big need for people in the inner city and we had 30-plus people for the meeting.”

"I also recently had the opportunity to offer a coffee and some snacks to one of the 'girls' on the street," he continues. "It's the first step towards drawing her to Christ."

TMPC, which meets on the adjacent building to the coffee house, is located in the Buckeye neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland--an area where gangs, poverty, crime, drugs, and prostitution rule the streets.

“Pastor Bob and Judy took something old and dead, and by the grace of God, they were able to build something completely new and full of life," explains James Nichols, executive director of the Cuyahoga Land Bank Charities. "The Tavern Coffee House provides a great physical representation of the redemptive work that pastor Bob, Judy and their team are doing in the Buckeye neighborhood.”

In 2013, the house next door to the Willards went through foreclosure. However, Willard purchased the property for a mere $500 because of the house’s dilapidated condition and finding favor with the director of Cuyahoga County Land Bank which owned it.

TMPC was holding services at the residence until 2019, when it moved to the apartment on the back of the coffee house building. The house is now rented to a family in ministry involved in another church plant and it provides a small income to TMPC.

"The Willards came to a new neighborhood completely trusting on the Lord to serve as His instruments of love of Christ," says Gus Frangos, president and general counsel of Cuyahoga County Land Bank. "They have since touched the lives of hundreds of families, children, and community members with the gospel and with the services and support so urgently needed in the community."

U.S. missions associate with Intercultural Ministries Kenneth M. McQuiller, 33, is the CEO of the coffee house and is responsible for its daily operations. McQuiller and his wife Shelby, 36, are also both ordained ministers.

Valerie E. Hill, 72, who has been part of TMPC from the beginning, calls the Tavern Coffee House a blessing.

"This building once was a tavern where people could come to ruin their lives," she says, “Now we have fellowship in the same room where darkness prevailed. We have faith that this will be the birthplace of many new lives as people come from hopelessness into a living hope. Now we have vibrant fellowship with a coffee cup in our hands that awakens us instead of a glass of whiskey that would put us to sleep, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

Daynet S. Little, 27, who was saved at TMPC two years ago, agrees.

“The church has impacted my life in a lot of ways, with the first bringing me closer to God," she says "The church has done so many things to help out our community. The church is really a blessing. The Tavern Coffee House is really cool because now there’s a coffee place where the community can come and feel safe to talk about Jesus, and enjoy each other‘s company.”

Eric Tiansay

Eric Tiansay has been a full-time journalist since 1993, writing articles for Christian media since 2000. He lives in central Florida, where he is an active member of an Assemblies of God church.