CJ Curtis opened a coffee shop for the 88 cents. Sure, she loves lattes and food and friendship and foliage — all the observable ingredients of The Garden Coffee & Local Eats. She loves the entrepreneurial aspects, the camaraderie with employees, the fact it’s located in the heart of Spokane Valley, her longtime home.
But the 88 cents? That’s where the business connects to her soul and to her story.
The 88 cents is for the vulnerable girl unwittingly lured by an older man into the commercial sex industry. In CJ’s case, age 13.
The 88 cents is for the teenager whose life is a spiral of prostitution numbed by drugs. For CJ, a coping mechanism in a life of trauma.
The 88 cents is for the thousands of women who need to be rescued, and for the rescued still enslaved by a long-simmering shame. CJ saw more than a decade pass between her escape from sex trafficking and the realization she had ever been a victim.
“I had to do something with the healing I gained from learning I was a victim — and knowing that there are so many people who have no idea this is going on right under their nose,” CJ said. “So I started sharing my story. In that process, God just put it on my heart that I would raise money for this ministry.”
The ministry? To “reach, recover and restore” fellow survivors of sex trafficking. The money? Well, it’s being counted 88 cents at a time.
CJ designed her menu to feature several entrees with prices ending in 88 cents, mostly favorites made from scratch in the The Garden’s kitchen. Purchase one of these, and you can “eat food, restore lives,” as a sign near the register puts it.
The Garden donates the 88 cents to the anti-slavery work being done by Spokane Valley-based HRC Ministries, a movement CJ not only believes in but plays an active role as HRC’s community engagement specialist. Before starting The Garden, she helped launch HRC’s Repeat Boutique second-hand store at 13524 E. Sprague Ave., where proceeds also help survivors of human trafficking.
All of this work connects to a calling she feels from God to “share the message and love of Jesus” and his ability to heal and restore. As such, her vision for these enterprises goes beyond raising money, and she hopes to eventually provide work experience for survivors.
“That first real job that I got was life changing for me,” CJ said. “I want to be able to offer that to these ladies and have a place for them to cultivate their gifts and passions.”
In some ways, the initial seed of inspiration for The Garden was planted years ago by Mr. Curry, a teacher in a drug rehabilitation program CJ attended as a teenager. He taught students the intricacies of tending to a rose garden, and upon graduation each selected a rose to take with them.
“I think that really helped inspire a lot of my love for gardening in general, as well as for bringing things to life and restoring things,” CJ said.
She would later earn a degree in horticulture and has years of experience as a florist, a skill she exercises through hosting popular workshops such as an October event where centerpieces were created using succulents and pumpkins. The garden concept also matches her focus on healthy, fresh food.
The name’s deepest roots, though, are clearly found in a more personal place of renewal — “any sort of way I can correlate restoration in the life and heart of people,” she said.
While the décor and feel of The Garden showcase the talents and tastes of CJ the Florist, the use of space for people to make connections is clearly her priority. While it’s a comfortable place to throw in headphones and zero in on a project, the layout of the large seating area is geared around access to other people — not the nearest outlet.
“I wanted to create spaces so people can engage with one another, environments where people can get together and look at each other face to face,” CJ said.
She recounts the regularity of old friends bumping into one another or loyal customers reporting The Garden proved to provide the perfect soil for a soul-enriching conversation. That, she doesn’t take credit for.
“Personally, I think it is the presence of God; I really do,” CJ said. “I believe that people can sense his presence even if they don’t know it.”
THE TOP PICK
“Avocado toast is huge,” CJ said. “People love them for a healthier, quick bite.”
As CJ has transformed the former Cool Beans location — and before that, Cuppa Joe’s — into her own likeness, the healthy options truly have become the most famous orders.
To pair with the switch to Indaba Coffee, CJ converted most of the syrups to healthier Monin brand versions, and her decision to invest in the organic Holy Kakow chocolate syrup for the mochas has proved popular.
I always compare it to the first time I rode a Cannondale after growing up on a Huffy.— The Garden’s CJ Curtis, on her first sip of Indaba Coffee
Still, the first drink she listed when asked about popularity? The chai tea.
THE CULT FAVORITE
The super avocado toast: egg, bacon, red onion, sprouts grown by The Garden, sriracha and sesame seed. When interviewed in October, CJ admitted the dish wasn’t even on the menu for a time, but people keep asking about it.
THE TIME WHEN …
CJ was approached shortly after taking the reins at The Garden June 1 about using her coffee shop as a movie set. And so it came to be that a Christian romantic comedy about a flirtatious barista who falls for a humanitarian construction worker took over The Garden for two days. If the prominence of the shop in the movie’s one-minute trailer is any indication, The Garden will have plenty of screen time.
“I can’t wait till it comes out, because I want to do a movie viewing party here,” CJ said.
“Home Sweet Home” features Ben Elliott and the barista, Natasha Bure, daughter of former NHL right-winger Valeri Bure and “Full House” star Candace Cameron-Bure.
About the time CJ began dreaming about opening a coffee shop, she tasted Spokane’s Indaba Coffee for the first time.
“I always compare it to the first time I rode a Cannondale after growing up on a Huffy,” CJ said. “I tasted the coffee, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what have I been missing my whole life? This is so good.’”
She also connected to the “Love People, Love Coffee” mission of Indaba and how it partners with nonprofits and has a heart for local causes.
The Garden employs a team of six, and other partners include Revival Tea Company, Sweetbox, Desserts by Sara and Boots Bakery. Even the breakfast burrito includes local partnerships (tortillas from De Leon’s and salsa from Mama Torrez). Additionally, CJ frequents Farmers Markets during the summer months for ingredients used in the kitchen.
213 S. University Road, Suite 1, Spokane Valley
@thegarden509 on Facebook and Instagram
NOTE: A version of this story first appeared in the November 2019 issue of The Spokane Valley Current.
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