Cafes With a Conscience: 3 Local Eats Offering More Than Just a Meal

Generosity and quality are far from mutually exclusive in the Nashville community. Whether artists are collaborating with one another on demo recordings or businesses coordinating with charities, people in this town wield big hearts without sacrificing their aspirations. Nashville is home to approximately 2,000 nonprofit organizations, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, and that number doesn't include social enterprises still for-profit. Among these social enterprises are three Nashville eats with character, kindness and cuisine worth the trip.


1. Thistle Stop Cafe

5128 Charlotte Ave
Nashville, TN 37209

A pure delight for tea connoisseurs, folks who enjoy coffee dates in sweet sunlit rooms, and people who want to eat avocado on everything (guilty as charged), Thistle Stop Cafe is a must-try for Nashvillians new and old. Sponsored by top-shelf tea and baked goods vendors, this little cafe stems from Thistle Farms, a social enterprise with wild compassion and a storefront next door to the cafe. The store is a field day for lovers of organic skincare products, a picnic for anyone addicted to the scent of lavender or lemon sage, and a saving grace for people who need to buy gifts for mothers, wives and gal pals. More importantly, it's been a saving grace for women struggling with homelessness and addiction throughout the Nashville community, and provides empowerment to ladies smothered by systematic oppression and poverty worldwide.

Rewind to 1997, when founder and author Becca Stevens started Magdalene House and welcomed five displaced women to live there. Now, nineteen years later, Magdalene House is a thriving ministry pulling women from poverty, domestic abuse and substance-abuse, inviting them into a holistic healing program. Given the opportunity to receive economic, nutritional, physical and mental education and growth while working through transitional housing and a new start, the Magdalene House participants lovingly produce the goods sold as Thistle Farms products, including but not limited to soy candles, bath salts, sock monkeys, scarves, soaps and lotions. In 2013 Thistle Stop Cafe opened, broadening the work learning capacity for ladies in the program and bringing delectable food to hungry Nashvillians. Thistle Farms now partners with around 18 global partners, planting vocational and educational initiatives worldwide for women struggling to see their lives as things of value and beauty.

The cafe is delicious and refreshing, and the products make you feel like you're being spoiled even if you're just washing your hands. When purchasing products from Thistle Farms or chowing down at Thistle Stop Cafe, shoppers support a local business begun with the desire to bring beauty and compassion into people's lives. You show kindness to others and to yourself when you buy from Thistle Farms. Why not grab your lip balm or your Saturday morning bagel there?


2. The Well Coffeehouse

4002 Granny White Pike
Nashville, TN 37204

690 Old Hickory Blvd
Brentwood, TN 37027

This coffee dive is a hip interior designer's dream and a sanctuary for students, remote workers and social butterflies alike. The Well offers coffee and free WiFi, of course, but also has a full breakfast menu, lunch and dinner menu, smoothies, pastries and tea available. Products and gear bearing the names of charities around Nashville line dark wooden shelves along the walls, and on occasion local songwriters and acoustic bands perform on a teeny-tiny stage, making the atmosphere that much warmer and communal.

The Well's name wasn't chosen without purpose. When founded in 2012 by a group of friends suddenly heartbroken over how much they possessed compared with how much others need, the coffeehouse was born so that a vast portion of profits could fund the construction of clean water wells in Third World and drought-ridden countries, including the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Togo, Senegal and Central African Republic.

Along with supplying clean and therefore safer water for thousands of people, The Well is a leading example for entrepreneurship with a mission. The founders and Board members passionately continue building this cozy cafe into a business that tends rather than hoards its profits, and they provide a place full of sweetness and community to anyone in Nashville who could use a little more love (or caffeine, or sugar) in their day.


3. The Cookery

1827 12th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37203

With Australian-inspired recipes, close proximity to The Gulch and trendy 12 South and entirely manageable prices, The Cookery is one of the most underrated eats in Music City. Partially because of a modest approach to self-promotion and partially because of its understated exterior, this little restaurant caters, hosts movie nights and educates transitioning members of  the homeless community in the culinary arts.

It's more than just teaching someone to saute mushrooms. The Cookery is a restaurant title, but the ministry behind the meals is known as Lambscroft Ministries. Staff-members and volunteers impart practical skills to formerly homeless learners, along with the invaluable opportunity to reestablish their identities and rediscover their self-worth before reentering the community and workforce. The Cookery's donation system funds the vocational training for each student, as well as any necessary medical and dental checkups and procedures. While living in housing provided by the ministry on their way to affordable housing and stable employment in Nashville's food industry, students in the program work in the restaurant, prepare delectable meals and offer the sincerest and sweetest customer service you will ever encounter.

Founders Brett Swayn and Terry Kemper united their entrepreneurial endeavors in 2008 after no small amount of heartache and struggle. Fueled primarily by the hunger to serve the marginalized and isolated homeless community of Nashville, Swayn dreamed of opening a social enterprise/restaurant for three years after living on the streets of Nashville himself. Kemper had barely managed to secure a life for herself and her four children before willingly opening her home to the homeless students of what would soon become Lambscroft Ministries. The Cookery at last entered Nashville's dining scene in 2013, and if the hope, strength and skill it gives its program participants isn't enough to ignite your appetite, its Cajun Whitefish Tacos certainly will.