Spokane’s Indaba Coffee is not your typical café. With a Zulu name that loosely means a gathering of tribal leaders to discuss important matters, the spot just north of the Spokane River is a resource for locals. The business has bulletin boards on the ceiling and space shared with a small nonprofit bookstore. It serves residents of the affordable housing project just upstairs as well as the attorneys who work at the county courthouse down the street.

It’s the lively atmosphere founder and owner Bobby Enslow ’06, ’08 MBA is trying to brew up. “This is a place where successful people can gather and have an important conversation,” he said. “It’s also a space for everyone to rub shoulders.”

Indaba founders Bobby Enslow ’06, ’08 and Ben Doornink ’07
Indaba founders Bobby Enslow ’06, ’08 (left) and Ben Doornink ’07 (Courtesy Bobby Enslow)

It was a long journey that led Enslow to his current job. It started a few years ago when he spent two months in South Africa for an internship as an administration consultant for an HIV/AIDS clinic while working on his MBA. He found he liked the outreach work. After finishing his degree, Enslow moved back to his native Spokane and dug back into his own community. “I was the head of marketing development for a nonprofit,” he said. “We started looking into this neighborhood and realized they were missing a third gathering place.”

A third place, the first being home and the second workplace, is defined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg as a spot like a pub, eatery, or park where individuals in a community can meet and form bonds, talk politics, and feel engaged. However, the idea for a coffee shop actually came from a local Lutheran pastor, according to Indaba co-founder Ben Doornink ’07.

“The pastor wanted to have a building with church on Sunday but a coffee shop-type place during the week,” he said. “We loved the idea so much that we decided to use it, without the church, of course.”

Doornink has supported the business in a variety of ways since it first opened in 2009. He even tried serving the patrons but found it wasn’t his strongest skill. “I tried to get behind the register one day, and they never let me back,” he said. “I handle more of the behind-the-scenes, day-to-day operations now.”

No matter the origins of the idea, the desire to serve the community is a philosophy they take on in many aspects of their business. The shop serves gourmet espressos, sandwiches, soups, and pastries as well as soda. They try to stay local and affordable with their products. “We buy all of our produce locally from a hydroponic place,” Enslow said. “We have a neighborhood baker doing all the baked goods. We even buy our coffee from Bumper Crop, a group of roasters out of Spokane.”

According to Enslow, all the baristas are trained to make latte art. Latte art is topping the beverage with cream to make an artistic design. In addition, Indaba offers coffee made using a French press. “We use only French press and offer it for $1.50,” he said.

They help out local artists, musicians, and artisans, displaying and selling their creations at the shop.

Though it’s in a lower-income neighborhood, Indaba has found customers both in the immediate blocks and throughout the city. “We really get a lot of neighborhood support, but there aren’t enough neighbors” to solely make the business successful, he said. Fortunately, “we also get a lot of destination traffic. People go out of their way to come here.”

Indaba is one of the first businesses in the Kendall Yards project area, a planned development to revitalize the neighborhood northwest of downtown through remodeling and rebuilding. The Indaba owners support the venture. “We want to be a catalyst of economic development,” said Doornink.