The Third Place isn’t hard to find. It’s at 1609 E. 5th St., just beyond the main stretch of Elizabeth Avenue eateries and within sight of Elizabeth Creamery. I go nuts over independent coffee shops, and I clearly missed the grand opening of this one, since it’s been open since late April. Part of that might have to do with the fact that it’s at the bottom of Caldwell Presbyterian Church.

But the second you step down the front stairs and swing the door open, it feels like any other artsy, hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Except this one is a nonprofit coffee shop with a mission: To allow people from the struggling Enderly Park neighborhood to run a business.

Coffee mugs of all sizes and patterns hang from hooks on the walls of the entryway. A chalkboard sign reads: “Pick your mug.”

Done.

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I asked Greg Jarrell of QC Family Tree, who was standing at the counter around the corner, which type of Enderly Coffee Co. beans I should choose for my pour-over (pour-overs are a suggested donation of $2.50 and cold brews are a suggested donation of $3). Jarrell said to go for the Rwandan beans.

Done.

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While he ground the beans, I wandered away from the menu (featuring local Enderly Coffee, Stash tea and Friendship Trays’ baked goods) and through the space.

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It feels like some sort of inspiration cave, with high windows frosted or darkened by shades; everything is bathed in the mellow light of mismatched lamps. A blend of oldies/funk radio music emanated from speakers in the corner and, at 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, I was alone except for one other person bent over a laptop.

IMG_8560The people who created this space – members of QC Family Tree, Friendship Trays and Caldwell Presbyterian Church – didn’t want it to feel too church-y, Jarrell said.

It doesn’t. It kind of feels like a blend between somebody’s giant living room, a dorm lounge and the former Daily Press (there’s a stage at the front).

Everything is mismatched but pulls you in – whether it’s the deep leather couch in the corner by the faux tree, or the painting of two people suspended in the air in the other corner, or the squares torn from coffee sacks that softly line the walls and stage.

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I’ve written about Starbucks trying to be a Third Place. But I think a Third Place is meant to inspire. It can’t just be a generic coffee shop where you crank out work with no sense of insight or deep thought.

This place has depth.

I found depth in the paper sign over my shoulder with the quote: “Home is where you grow up wanting to leave and where you grow old wanting to get back to.” Because that’s Charlotte, for me.

I found depth in the plain black frame that said, “La vie est belle. Life is beautiful.” Because it is.

And I found depth in the meaning behind this place. Because it was created with a mission in mind: to bring people in from a struggling Enderly Park neighborhood and let them run a business. The manager of The Third Place, for example, is Chardonai Scogins, an alumnus of QC Family Tree, a nonprofit that works to better the lives of people in west Charlotte’s Enderly Park area.

[Related: New nonprofit coffee shop an experiment in entrepreneurship]

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Jarrell said this place is intended not only to create economic opportunities, but to be a place where folks can come together to build the bonds that form communities.

I started by building a bond with a gluten-free brownie baked by Friendship Trays (suggested donation for pastries is $2). I tapped into the WiFi, took a gulp of my pour-over and took note of the gender-neutral bathroom sign, the empty expanse of chairs and tables and couches that could easily seat at least 50 people.

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I asked Sydney Young, the woman from QC Family Tree bent over her laptop on the stage, what she thought of this place. “I like to come in a few times a week to see how the vibe is and who’s here,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt that they have my own special mug for me.”

It doesn’t hurt that the coffee is smooth and the chocolate is rich, either.

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The Third Place: 1609 E. 5th St.

Open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

Photos: Katie Toussaint

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