Ridgetop Coffee & Tea is not your ordinary coffee shop.
Although the cafe is housed in a nondescript building in a Sterling office complex, the interior is attractive, comfortable and roomy. Along the far wall, separated by large glass windows, is a children’s play area that draws throngs of moms and a few dads who enjoy adult conversation while keeping an eye on their kids as they play.
Less obvious is the shop’s ethos, which emphasizes building community rather than maximizing profits by moving customers in and out to sell more coffee. In fact, Ridgetop Coffee & Tea is not really a business at all. It is a ministry of Riverside Presbyterian Church.
The church, which owns half the building, opened the cafe in April, adjacent to the space it uses for worship services. Co-pastors Brian Clark and Edwin Andrade said the coffee ministry is a way for the church to serve the community.
“We’ve been asking the question, ‘What’s church to look like today?’ ” Clark said.
The original vision for the church when it formed two decades ago was a stand-alone building on land that had been donated in Cascades. But as Riverside built its membership over the years, while holding worship services in schools, church leaders decided to devote their resources toward ministering to the community rather than constructing and maintaining a building.
Three years ago, the church sold its Cascades property to a developer and began renting space in a building on Ridgetop Circle, across the street from its current location. Riverside’s leaders asked themselves what the community was lacking that the church could provide, Clark said. Among the top considerations were a gym and a “third space” — a place to gather.
“Where is there that people can just hang? Where is it that you can just meet somebody? And we really felt that is a big need, especially since a lot of places that started out [as a] third space are moving more corporate and trying to get you in and out,” Clark said.
Loudoun County’s demographics played a part in the decision-making process. Clark said many young adults with children have decided that it does not make financial sense for both partners to work. So the stay-at-home parents need a place where they can meet with friends while their children play.
“When we were at the schools, it was easy to get engaged with the community,” Andrade said, adding that it was decided that the new building would be “a place that wasn’t just going to serve the church, but . . . a place for the community to come and gather.”
Word about the coffee shop, which to a casual observer isn’t church-affiliated, spread quickly via social media, and many parent groups now meet there regularly, Andrade said. Among them are groups of Muslim mothers who have formed friendships there, he said.
Giving people a place to build relationships, rather than recruiting church members, is the primary goal, Andrade said.
“We want people to be in a relationship with Christ,” he said. “What that looks like and where that takes place — it doesn’t have to be here.”
Cafe manager Amanda Holz said the coffee shop also draws customers of Champion Title, which owns the other half of the building.
“We have instant access to people who are moving into the area, because they’re coming here to settle on their house,” Holz said. She estimated that parents with young children make up about half the cafe’s clientele, and that the rest are customers of the title company and professionals who work in nearby office buildings.
“One more way we can serve the community is serving the business community, too,” Clark said. “A lot of the office parks around here, you go into your space with an outdoor entrance . . . so you never have to interact with anyone around you.”
Although the cafe is a popular gathering spot, particularly on weekday mornings, it is not generating significant revenue for the church, Clark said, adding that the church’s goal is for the cafe to break even.
“A moms group will come and buy a cup of coffee and hang out for two hours,” he said. “And that’s great with us. That’s a total success. Business-wise, not so much . . . but we’re okay with it.”
“It’s really more of a way of serving,” he said. “We always felt that the mission needs to trump the profit.”