Reflection From A Converted Coffee Shop Owner

By Peter M. Lee
An alumnus of Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Graduated from MCS in 1998

At Regent, I learned to listen to people’s stories. Everyone has a story to tell, and I have ample opportunities to listen. Invariably as I’m preparing the food and drink, a story will emerge from the conversation. I’ve learned not to functionalize relationships as a means for preaching the gospel, but to simply enjoy the person and what they have gone through. What they have to say I find interesting, because I’m interested in them. I can often see God’s work in their lives. I see cuts and angles in their stories that have similarities with the stories in the Bible. In the end, what I’ve found is that I’m engaging with the God of the Bible through my relationships. I have come to “see God working” as Eugene Peterson would put it.

Now, almost five years after opening The Well, we do have a loyal and growing clientele. We are surviving but the business is not flourishing. People come because they love the music, the atmosphere, and the chats they have with our staff. People frequently ask me, “When are you going to be there?” For some reason, they don’t want to set a time; perhaps that’s too intentional and too serious. They want to just “Drop by and say ‘Hi’!”, so the real important things could be said, without being embarrassed by sounding overly important.

Yet for five years, I have personalized the people, but “depersonalized” the food. In my mind, people were the main thing while I functionalized the food. But food was meant to be “tasty”. I embraced God’s people, but stepped on God’s creation. I was aware of God in my relationships with people, but I was a pagan in relation to creation and the earth. It is intriguing that the wine Jesus made was not just as good as the previously served wine. Rather, he made exceptional wine.

Just as my coach for interpersonal skills was Eugene Peterson, my “coach” for food and dealing with God’s other three days of creation is Ina Garten, the owner of The Barefoot Contessa in Hampton, New York. She is earthy, simple, unadulterated, and realizes that the best is really the closest we can get to the original creation. The way God made food.

Her motto is to make everything look beautiful without being complicated. “The meal is simpler than you expected and better than you remembered.”