Caffeine and Jesus in Minnesota business

4 mins read
St. James Coffee
Photo courtesy of St. James Coffee

St. James Coffee in Rochester, Minnesota, may at first glance be an ordinary coffee shop. It serves coffee in various concoctions as well as food, regularly welcomes both first-timers and long-established patrons, and hosts events for the local community. But it isn’t quite your everyday café: the shop doesn’t just serve its patrons coffee, but the sacraments and spirituality, as well.

In fact, it’s probably the only coffee shop in the country that has an adoration chapel.

“The idea was,” explained Melissa Scaccio, who runs St. James, “wouldn’t it be lovely to have people be able to come in, go say hi to Jesus while they’re waiting for their drink, or come in and do their Holy Hour, that as long as we’re open for business, the chapel is open to pray in.”

Diverse patrons and a Catholic presence

A typical day at the shop is as diverse as the cohort it attracts: a visitor might overhear an interdenominational theological debate, glimpse a Bible study group or see different patrons doing remote work. Some stop in briefly, while others stay for hours.

The chapel has existed since 2014, two years after the shop opened, when St. James obtained permission from the Diocese of Winona-Rochester to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a tabernacle and monstrance. The host used for adoration needs to be changed out once a month, and so, on every second Thursday, the shop celebrates a “coffee shop Mass.” The Mass used to be held in the chapel, but Scaccio says that attendance has now soared so much that the altar must be moved into the main part of the shop and the furniture cleared away to accommodate everyone who comes.

Adoration chapel
Photos courtesy of St. James Coffee

Volunteer and service

To assist it in its mission and reduce operating costs, the coffee shop is largely staffed by local volunteers. Scaccio estimates that around 15 people offer their help every week, for everything from barista duty to laundry to helping with social events. Among regular volunteers, there is a wide range of ages, including several retirees, about 10 young adults, and a considerable cohort of high schoolers, several of whom Scaccio says are experienced enough to run the shop in her absence.

“It’s a fun way to volunteer and serve people,” said Conrad Tuistra, a high school student who has volunteered at St. James for about two years. One of his favorite memories there, he said, happened this past winter, when he and Scaccio were caroling in the shop shortly before Christmas and were quickly joined by his grandparents, as well as another customer.

“That was really beautiful,” he said.

Great people, good coffee

In operation for just over 10 years, the shop sits unassumingly in a shopping plaza near U.S. Route 63 in the northern part of Rochester. The menu boasts specialty drinks such as “Divine Mercy Raspberry,” “St. Dominic’s Black and White,” and “Turt-ullian Turtle” alongside more orthodox items like espresso, mochas and cappuccinos (though cleverly styled as “Capuchin-O”). Icons and statues dominate the fireplace mantel.

Over a notice board, the wall is emblazoned with the words: “Great People. Good Coffee. We invite questions and discussions about faith.” It conveys succinctly the kind of environment Scaccio strives to cultivate at the shop, and which patrons say they find there: a place with a diverse crowd, from daily Mass-going Catholics to staunch atheists, eager to share life and discuss ideas and the finer things of life.

“This is not a place just for Catholics, this is a place for everybody,” said Scaccio. “Some of my best customers are actually atheists.”

Among the crowd that you would not at first expect to find at a Catholic store is Brandon Hendrickson. A science educator, Hendrickson is one of St. James’ most regular customers and openly agnostic.

Coffee shop
Courtesy photo

“I went there without even realizing it was a faith coffee shop, with a message,” Hendrickson said. Hendrickson was raised Protestant, has some familiarity with Christian intellectual history and enjoys meaningful conversations of all types.

“The reason that it’s so wonderful, for everybody,” he said, “putting aside my love for the history of Christian theology and what-not and geeky references to Tertullian, is that because it has this moral base to it, it allows people to open up to one another. So, it easily becomes a more friendly place even for people who are not part of that tradition, who are not part of that community.”

He’s been coming to the coffee shop for about two years, having discovered it by surprise shortly after he and his family moved to the area. The atmosphere there quickly had him hooked.

“The assumption is not that everybody is strangers, and maybe they have radical disagreements with one another,” he explained, “but rather that people like each other and know each other. And that is infectious.”

Hendrickson estimates that he’s made five solid friendships through the shop and also met many warm acquaintances.

Another frequent patron echoing Hendrickson’s sentiments was Alex Peters, who grew up near the Rochester area and is now in his second year of seminary in nearby Winona.

“I’ll spend like 6-7 hours there when I have time,” said Peters. “It’s a place that I can go do work, but also engage people.”

A conversation about faith

“You can go and have conversation with people,” he said, “or if you have questions, you can go and ask questions. It’s a very laid-back atmosphere, so it’s great to do leisure reading, and then on top of that they also have their chapel, which has the Blessed Sacrament in it.”

Such an environment is, according to Scaccio, built into St. James — quite literally.


“It is designed to make people ask questions,” said Scaccio. “So, there is a beautiful crucifix above the fireplace, we have a couple statues up there. We have very large pictures of saints on the wall with no captions, so they have to ask to see who they are.”

She also said the names of the drinks are tied into this way of evangelizing via the shop itself. “When people order them, they’re like, ‘What is that?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s a religious order, that’s a play on words.’ And then, they can choose to keep asking questions about it, they can choose to look it up themselves.”

The faith concept

An atmosphere like that was part of the purpose of St. James when it was opened in July 2012. The project was spearheaded by Father Matt Fasnacht, a priest of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester. Father Fasnacht is no longer involved in the shop, but Scaccio told his story.

“[He] had this idea because he really likes coffee, and he really loves Jesus,” Scaccio explained. “And he thought that it would be really neat to combine the two, and to create a space where it wasn’t as intimidating as a church, and people would be willing to come in and encounter Christ in a non-intimidating environment.” Father Fasnacht shortly thereafter handed leadership responsibilities over to the board of directors, and the shop took off from there.

That environment continues today. Jim Welper, another of St. James’ regulars, is semi-retired and says the coffee shop has become a pillar of his social life. “You go in and everybody knows your name,” he said. “It’s friendly, it’s welcoming to everybody.”

Joe Slama

Joe Slama is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.