It was every baker’s worst nightmare.
In November 2017, amidst the holiday hustle and a day before a Thanksgiving-themed event, Melanie Lino, co-founder of Lit Coffee Roastery and Bakeshop, discovered that her commercial oven had broken.
After streaming tears, heart-racing frustration and “I don’t know what to do!” panic, Lino devised a plan. She would hold a “breakfast for dinner” fundraiser.
She gathered a few friends, cooked up her favorite breakfast foods and opened Lit’s doors to guests to dine and share in each other’s company. She encouraged them to donate whatever they wished.
By the end of the night, they raised more than the cost of a brand-new commercial oven.
Now, five years later, Lino still gets emotional when she tells this story. She and co-founders Matt Hengeveld and Dan Taylor were thankful that the community had their backs, especially with Lit having been in its first year at the time.
Lino said the team has made sure the community never forgets their gratitude.
Lino said the shop is composed of Monocacy Coffee Co., led by Hengeveld and Taylor, and Made by Lino, led by Lino. Together under Lit, they have committed themselves to being a community hub.
“We’re just trying to do some good in this little part of our valley,” Lino said. “We are a place of safety, a place of resources, a place where people come together to meet and hang out and learn something. Community hub is Lit’s core personality.”
This is apparent upon entering the café. At the end of the entryway sits a small door that has been repurposed as a sign. It reads, “Please support our neighbors,” accompanied by the names of 17 small South Side businesses.
Next to the sign is a table showcasing items ranging from candles to jewelry to holiday cards, all made by local creators. On the walls hang prints, paintings and tapestries created by local artists. Behind the counter is fair-trade certified coffee and food made with locally sourced ingredients and low-waste practices.
“A lot of the businesses that we worked alongside now have actually grown to establish themselves,” Hengeveld said. “There’s been a ton of smaller jewelers and artists that have grown into their own professions and established themselves and part of that was under our roof.”
Lino said she wants anyone who enters their space to feel accepted and empowered, especially those from marginalized communities.
Throughout the store lay Black Lives Matter signs, pride flags and female empowerment posters.
“We don’t tolerate (hate) because we love everybody here,” Lino said. “If we’re going to create a space of safety, we have to make sure that people that do identify in a way that is what one would consider marginalized in our society, we want them to walk in here and know that while they’re here, they’re in good hands.”
Amanda Furrer, a Bethlehem resident, said this compassion has kept her coming to Lit every Tuesday through Saturday for the past four years. She said Lit, located in the heart of the South Side at 26 E 3rd St., has become a backbone of South Bethlehem.
“The top things I like are the community here – the workers, the staff – they are so friendly,” Furrer said. “I come in here and they already have my 16 ounce coffee ready. Of course, the food – I love all of their sourdough products. If they were ever gone, I would be devastated.”
Hengeveld said the store looks to hire individuals who are kind, passionate and show up with heart. Individuals who can strike up a conversation about the flavor notes in their coffees, the farm where they get their cheese or their personal artistic endeavors. People like barista Brenna Grealish.
Grealish said Lit’s collaborative and supportive working environment – which she considers hard to come by in the coffee shop world – made her feel immediately welcomed.
“I feel very lucky,” Grealish said. “Having a place that felt accepting of me as a queer person and as a creative lady, I belonged here.”
Lit’s staff and customers contribute items to the café, providing a sense of home: store mugs and dishes created by barista Tony Williams, a crocheted owl made by Taylor’s grandmother that sits in the front nook of the store, a drawing of macarons that Lino’s friend gifted her, mismatched chairs and tables, an autumn floral printed couch they got off Craigslist, an old typewriter and vintage gumball machine.
All these items, although seemingly random, come together in perfect harmony, Lino said, just as the people and businesses in the community do at Lit.