For once, Sonam Parikh would like to be written about for being the best. “Not just the gay best,” Parikh says, sitting on the curb in the backyard of Mina’s World, the coffee shop that Parikh runs with their business partner Kate Egghart. “But the best.” The menu at Mina’s World — from the house-made cardamom syrup to the pea-and-tofu samosas — is what makes it notable, Parikh says. “We’re an incredible cafe with incredible recipes. We really believe in the stuff that we’re making.”
In a moment of reflection while Egghart and Parikh’s small, sweet dog Joon pads back and forth between their legs, Parikh brainstorms a headline for this story: “Check Out This Incredible Cafe — Also, This Is the Background of the People. And Can You Believe They Do This While Being This?”
Even if it’s a tad wordy, Parikh’s point is a salient one. Queer-owned food businesses like Mina’s World, where a safe, inclusive culture is prioritized and workers are paid fairly and treated with dignity, often find themselves in a double bind. Do they want to be represented as a coffee shop first and foremost, one that sells crispy spinach-and-onion pakoras, creative chai lattes, and ceramic incense holders made by local artists? Or is the cafe a queer- and trans-inclusive community space where the mission and identities of the owners are foregrounded? For that reason, “it’s interesting,” Parikh says, “that this article is running during Pride Month.”
It’s been a little over a year since the shop opened, smack-dab in the middle of a global pandemic, and Parikh and Egghart are still mulling over these questions. “The line between tokenization and representation is perforated. It’s hard to distinguish where it is or what it is,” Egghart explains, adding that she doesn’t think it’s for her or Parikh to decide. “I do think that representation can be a folly of some sorts. But also I wouldn’t have come out and done what I’ve done without seeing other trans people.”
In the time since their soft open, Parikh and Egghart have managed to create a vibrant queer community space — without ever having a single customer step inside. A bright yellow window and a colorful community fridge draw customers to the shop on South 52nd, but there is a walk-up window with a microphone talkbox where they can order from behind clear plastic. After Parikh lost their father to COVID-19, Egghart, Parikh, and their staff decided that the safest thing to do would be to stay closed inside until the worst of the pandemic is over.
“It seems like a lot of people have moved on from the idea that we are experiencing a global pandemic,” Parikh says. In Philadelphia, as of June 2, almost all restrictions have been lifted and businesses are now permitted to return to full indoor capacity. “Just because things look okay doesn’t mean they’re okay in a lot of communities.” Mina’s World is located a block away from Malcom X Park in the heart of West Philly, where Black and Brown people make up much of the population. “For us, selling some extra coffee just isn’t worth that risk and the potential harm it could cause.” When the time comes, the pair will include their staff in the decision to reopen.
“A lot of our leadership entails asking everybody what they think and making the decision together,” Parikh says. “Mina’s World is not the perfect workspace or a queer utopia, but we’re trying to make it as harmless as a space as possible.”
Mina’s World began as a record label and zine distributor in the thriving DIY music communities of Boston and Philadelphia. When Parikh and Egghart conceived of opening a physical space, they had wanted it to be a coffee shop that in turn supported a music venue. After four years of planning and setbacks, the pair decorated the front counter in bright yellow tiles, hired staff who understood the shop’s mission, and curated a menu founded on ethically sourced coffees and personal recipes from Parikh’s Indian and Egghart’s Korean heritage.
The cafe formally opened on February 28, 2020 — and, well, you know what happened next. Two and a half weeks later, Philly went into full lockdown and the cafe was forced to close. “I think a lot of people want us to reopen and want to come inside because it’s a cute space,” Egghart says. “There are no bathrooms close to the park and I think that’s been huge, at least for me. It feels really bad denying somebody the use of a bathroom.”
Limiting access to the shop also limits Parikh and Egghart’s ability to dispel certain pretensions associated with coffee. Third-wave coffee culture can feel exclusive and white; Mina’s World wants to present an image that counteracts that notion. “Coffee is a luxury item, it’s a privilege,” Egghart says. “It can be gatekept or put on this pedestal.” In other words, good coffee should be accessible and not intimidating.
Much of that openness and willingness to include marginalized folks in conversations around food and coffee comes from Parikh’s parents, who emigrated to America from India in 1982. Parikh grew up in the family bodega in Brooklyn, a kid hanging out around salsa jars and sitting on stacks of cat food. “Watching them interact with our neighbors and how much of an ecosystem they created and were a part of on our little block in New York, it was really powerful,” Parikh says, tearing up. “It kind of informs how we act here.”
It’s also one of the reasons that the Mina’s World’s menu includes pakoras and samosas sourced by International Food and Spices, a South Asian grocery in Spruce Hill. Parikh wrote the recipe for tofu and pea samosas — not the usual fare at coffee shops — with their dad. “We try to bring a part of our cultures and who we are to the menu,” Egghart says. The samosas, as well as the drip coffee, cost only $2 as a way to keep the shop accessible to those who might not be able to afford Mina’s World’s specialty lattes. Much of Parikh and Egghart’s decisions are made with intentionality, even if they acknowledge that their journey so far has been a learning experience.
Outside the shop, Parikh dreams up another headline to capture what they hope to accomplish at Mina’s World. “I’ve always wanted to say, ‘Dear reader,’” Parikh says, laughing. Whether Mina’s World is a queer-inclusive community space or a coffee shop with a thoughtful menu of coffee and food, Parikh says customers should just stop by and decide for themselves. Simpler than their first suggestion, Parikh puts this headline suggestion plainly: “Dear Reader, Come Through.”