Like most people in the food industry, Blew Kind — co-owner of Franny Lou’s Porch, a radical cafe in East Kensington — knew when she started out that she’d never become a millionaire. “I don’t make much money, but I don’t want the stress,” she says of the coffee shop she’s been running for six years at the corner of Coral and East York. “I’d rather be okay with where I’m at any type of socioeconomic level.”
Kind is the founder and one of three co-owners of Franny Lou’s, a coffee shop and lunch spot where the pro-community anti-oppression politics of the owners are baked into the business. The name alone is a tribute to two of Kind’s heroes, abolitionist and writer Frances E.W. Harper and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, which keeps the owners and staff accountable to their mission. “They believed in a free world,” Kind says of Hamer and Harper. “We do that at Franny’s, with the structure of the business, what we sell, and how we communicate.”
For Kind, that means that Franny Lou’s can’t profit off of exploitation, no matter how hard that makes it to succeed as a business in a capitalist country, in a neighborhood like Kensington that is being developed at a breakneck speed. “When you get a latte here, it’s legit,” Kind says. The coffee, chocolate, and sugar are all organic and relational (driven by building relationships with producers) or fair trade. “I’m not going to be a Black-owned business and sell you slave coffee,” Kind says. As a result, Franny Lou’s menu items can be pricey. “We have a sign that says we do profit-sharing with all of our staff and we pay livable wages, so we need to charge higher for this,” Kind says.
The business is horizontally structured, so although Kind and her co-owners Chantelle Todman and Ashley Huston are the store’s managers, Franny Lou’s staff is kept informed about how the business runs. At their monthly meeting, staff members are sent a report listing the shop’s expenses and income for that month, as well as the cafe’s highest and lowest selling items. Anything left over after paying expenses gets divided among the entire staff. So when there’s an extra thousand dollars at the end of the month, everyone on the staff gets to share it.
Being transparent about the shop’s finances also has the effect of keeping the owners accountable to their staff. “[Our staff] will say, ‘Mama Blew, you can’t be spending all this money on office supplies.’”
The food and drinks at Franny Lou’s also communicate the shop’s politics, in case the cafe’s name doesn’t resonate with customers. Drinks are named for revolutionary freedom fighters: Ramona Africa, one of the sole survivors of the 1985 MOVE Bombing in Philly, environmentalist Dorothy Stang, activist Angela Davis, journalist Ida B. Wells. To order a sandwich, customers have to ask for the Anti-Capitalist (a bacon and egg sandwich on focaccia) or the Pro-Community (a vegan hummus and veggie sandwich). “We name our lattes about different radicals so that people can ask about it,” Kind says. At Franny Lou’s, education is a sign of love for the community.
Occasionally, the specialty coffee names — especially those named for political prisoners — can bristle Franny Lou’s customers. “The truth isn’t always pretty, and not everybody is going to be okay with it,” Kind says. But they keep the names, in order to invite those tricky conversations, and though it’s rare, some customers can respond rudely.
“People are so used to treating people in the service industry like they’re not humans,” Kind says. “If we have rude customers being entitled, we will educate them. ‘No, you can’t talk to us like that.’ We’re very much about having integrity and love for ourselves.”
Coffee shops can frequently feel like exclusionary spaces intended for a narrowly defined clientele. At Franny Lou’s, the traditional status symbols of third-wave coffee culture are deliberately absent: Coffee drinkers chat on a lush outdoor patio and open sidewalks. There is a bright yellow free community fridge sponsored by Mama-Tee’s clothing on the corner. The cafe holds events like community markets with local artisans, open mics and wellness workshops, and natural dyeing skill shares, all with the purpose of welcoming evermore people into Franny Lou’s vibrant fabric. Almost all of their events are donation-based.
Last month, Franny Lou’s celebrated its sixth anniversary at the corner of Coral and York with an open mic and a small party. But the anniversary came with an even bigger achievement: After raising funds through a GoFundMe in November, Kind and her co-owners officially bought the Franny Lou’s building. The former owner had put the building on the market last year, so Kind reached out to the Franny Lou’s network to stop it from happening. The community helped Kind and her partners raise $60,000 for a down payment.
“Everything is a choice as a business owner,” Kind says now. “And I’m just grateful for what we have.”