I’m not very good at running the register because I give basically everything away. — Joe Farmer of Axis Coffee Shop and Gathering Place in Manchester, Kentucky
Tracy Farmer: We saw the need in our church to expand. We needed room for children’s ministry and youth ministry, but we also wanted to give the community — a place that they could bring people together — they could gather and have meetings and just meet for coffee and have a place to be proud of in the community. We saw a need and there wasn’t anything like this around.
Joe Farmer: We call this place the Axis because everything here revolves around Christ. We’re more than just a coffee shop.
Tracy Farmer: It is under the umbrella of our church. Anything we do we make it a community ministry. We don’t try to keep it just in one church. This is under the umbrella of one church, but we invite everybody to come.
Joe Farmer: It’s better together. And you can accomplish more together. It’s easy to buy into stereotypes especially in the area we live in, especially if they have a template and they just check off the boxes. The New York Times did a story and said Manchester was the worst place to live in America. I just took it as a challenge. I look around and out and it’s easy to find problems, it’s easy for people to identify the problems and say ‘somebody should fix that.’
But it takes someone to look at it and someone to do something about it. I’m somebody. You’re somebody. So who are these people that are supposed to do something? Well, it’s us. We can either make a difference or we can make an excuse. It’s really up to us. So I’ve chosen I want my life to count. I don’t want to come at the end of my life and look back and think, ‘What did I do with my life?’ So that’s what we did here. We created this business — it’s all volunteer based. They give their time here and everything we make above and beyond the cost of operation we give way.
We’re given money to our softball team that made the World Series. We’ve given money to Tanzania to help people that are affected in the drought and famine. Now we’re sponsoring a soccer team in the slums of Soweto. We give to domestic violence shelters. Just whatever the need is. Mainly things that involve children.
We started with coffee and muffins, things like that. A few months later we offered food and people just went crazy over our food. We don’t understand it — it’s just some thing God’s doing. There’s nothing fancy. It’s rather ordinary, but it’s just bliss. Things just taste better here. I think atmosphere has a lot to do with that. We love on people regardless of who they are. We hug them. We pray with them. We just try to make their day better.
The first day we opened our best seller was the ‘Pay it Forward’ board. Anybody that wants to buy somebody something — a drink or a food item — you can write it on the card. People might say a, ‘single mom’ or a ‘firefighter’ or something like that. We pin it on the board. So you can come and look on the board and if you find something that pertains to you take it and use it. I thought of that. It was just something I wanted to do. That’s kind of what we’re all about — making people’s lives better in their day. We make it so hard, but it’s not. It’s as simple as hugging somebody, telling them they matter, giving somebody a free drink.
Tracy and Joe Farmer run the Axis Coffee Shop and Gathering Place in Manchester, Kentucky. Their work, like those of others, is volunteer. Both also have full-time jobs. The coffee shop is owned by Manchester Gospel Mission, but volunteers and patrons come from many churches.
A latte with a cinnamon smile, a grilled peanut butter banana sandwich and white chicken chili at Axis. The chili is the most popular item according to Joe Farmer.
Sissy Rutherford: It’s a different business plan. It’s God’s business and not ours. We don’t have to make a profit all day long. The coffee shop is a ministry first and then it’s a coffee shop.
We took that perspective from the day we opened the doors. Three days in, a lady came in and asked me to pray with her. She was looking for a job and we told her we didn’t have anything to offer at that point. She said we are going to hear a lot of things about her and she said, ‘every one of them are true. I was a drug addict. I’ve been in prison, every bit of it’s true, but I’m trying to turn my life around. Will you pray with me?’ So we stopped and prayed right then and there. Now from that point on we said if there’s a reason to pray you don’t let them leave without a little prayer. I remember one time chasing a lady down the road thinking, ‘I forget to pray with her.’
It really has truly become a house of prayer here. We’ve been able to say the prayers and the prayers that have been said for us. God has provided such wonderful employees. It’s an opportunity to teach some of the younger ladies and men in this community that have never worked how to work. Then they move away. And they can get another job. And we’ve got some pretty good success stories.
Sissy and Eric Rutherford had been running a pizzeria in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina before they moved to Lynch, Kentucky to run the Lamp House Coffee Shop. The shop, part of Meridzo Center Ministries opened in 2014, was once part of the mining operation owned by U.S. Steel.
Darla Heflin: I had been praying every day. I would take my list and I would go out into the backyard and I would make my declarations out loud. So I would say, every day, ‘Living Stone ministries will be given to me.’ So, I changed the name. The name used to be ‘Tasty Time Frozen Yogurt.’
I had written that down years ago. I really had no idea what that looked like. I knew in some way or form or fashion it would be a business. I just didn’t know it would be coffee. I don’t even drink coffee.
Our church is knows for our mission outreach. We get a lot of phone calls for just basic needs, the water bill paid, electric bill paid, a food box. We’ve always done that and the shop was given to us by a local business owner who called me one morning at home and just asked me if I would want to receive it as a donation. So my brother is a pastor. So, I asked him. Do you want a coffee shop? We took over in 30 days.
I love to pray for the sick. And I have had that opportunity to pray for a lot of people who may never come to a church. They may never come to my church. I believe in the Scripture, I believe in Christ teaching that we lay hands on the sick. So, I’ve had the opportunity to pray and I’ve had a lot of healing testimony.
Another man, he came in and he said, ‘Are you all Christians here? And I said, ‘Yeah we are.’ He’s an older man, and he said, ‘Well, I came in here for a prayer. He said he got a bad report from the doctor, and his daughter told him to come in here. He comes in and we pray for him. He comes back. And my mom is working that day for me and he sings her a song and he said he got a clean bill of health from his follow-up doctor’s appointment.
And that’s what I love to do. A lady come in the other day. She’s talking and she says she’s been sick and they don’t know what it is. That’s an opportunity and I say, ‘Well, can I pray for you?’ And, it being Harlan, a smaller town, most people are open to that. So, I got to pray for her. I’ve not heard back from her yet, but I expect that I will.
Darla Heflin, 40, runs Living Stone Creamery and Coffee in Harlan, Kentucky. The walls carry chalk written scripture, and the furniture is made of used pallets. Her church of about 200 members, New Covenant Cawood of the Church of God has owned the shop since October of 2016. Most work is volunteer, but occasionally they can pay workers. All the proceeds are used for mission work.
In ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ Nancy Andrews presents photographs depicting the diversity of voices across Appalachia. These portraits strive to show the varied faces, passions, issues and opinions from around the region. These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. If you have an idea for ‘100 Days, 100 Voices’ please contact Nancy Andrews on Twitter @NancyAndrews or email at nancy.andrews [at] mail.wvu.edu. Follow her on Instagram @NancyAndrews.