Kristin Russell and Kelli Pearson long wanted to offer a meeting place where people could talk about what was happening around them and how it impacted them. They did that when they opened The Sentient Bean at 13 E. Park Ave. on Sept. 8, 2001.
Three days later, terrorists hijacked four airplanes, two destroying the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one crashing into the Pentagon in Virginia and one steering toward Washington, D.C., crashing near Shanksville, Penn.
That gave initial Bean customers something to talk about.
"Back then, we organized lectures on Mideast politics and held our own art exhibitions with international topics," said co-founder and co-owner Russell. "As the business grew, we let that slide. Emergent Savannah brought that back and we're honored that they have chosen us (as a meeting place). Emergent Savannah now really draws the crowds. What Emergent Savannah is doing is what we planned on when we opened the space.
"We wanted to encourage civic engagement," she said. "There weren't a lot of places to do that. We were thinking of a community gathering spot first, then a coffee shop second, or a coffee shop to pay for a community gathering place."
For the past 15 years, The Bean has been that gathering place. To celebrate this milestone, The Bean is hosting an open house from 6-10 p.m. Sept. 8 that will be full of music, discussion and coffee, raffles for area nonprofits and complimentary wine and snacks while they last. Savannah's City Hotel and Jason Bible will cap off the night with bluegrass and Americana starting at 8:30 p.m.
A native of Kansas, Russell met co-founder Pearson in college in Minnesota and decided to start such a meeting place in a warm community on a coast. Eventually choosing Savannah, they had a big party when they opened, Russell said.
Spoken word poetry was the earliest of the long-standing events.
"The community of spoken word people embraced us right away," Russell said. Spitfire Poetry Group, organized by spoken word artist RenaZance and the now-deceased Clinton D. Powell, hosted poetry slams at The Bean.
Two or three years later, the Psychotronic Film Society and Jim Reed (Do's Film Scene columnist) came along, still hosting society film events at The Bean today, she said.
"We also had the good fortune to open when musicians performing with the Savannah Symphony had additional time on their hands and the lack of a small venue to play their own music," Russell said. "Ricardo Ochoa and Andrew Ripley did a year-long music series called Sound Shorts. They put us on the map as a good place to go for good music."
The Bean was the home for Third Friday Foreign Cinema, Global Video Theater, Old Time Jam Session on Mondays hosted by Joe Nelson, Acoustic Showcase hosted by Lauren Lapointe and an assortment of lectures and showcases by explorers, photographers, activists and more, Russell said.
The space was always free to these groups, Russell said. That's been a help for recent fundraisers like belly-dancing events for One Love Animal Rescue and for a wide range of musicians.
About six years ago, they consciously cut down on these events because the dinner crowd was growing. Now they are going back in the other direction. And they are thinking of renting the event space for semi-private events, changing the way the bar service works and catering what the kitchen offers to more of what the event needs. This would be for lectures or workshops, and maybe fundraisers for nonprofits.
"We've been a hybrid of regular customers and events," Russell said. "It's been hard for regular customers."
In 2006, Claren Jamerson became a barista and by 2008, she became a co-owner. Claren oversees day-to-day operations while Russell looks at the big picture.
The favorite coffee at The Sentient Bean is Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. But the iced Guatemalan coffee is the most popular cold brew sold at The Bean, as it was even before iced coffee became trendy, Russell said.
They want to locally source 95 percent of the produce for their menu. "We're probably in the 50 percent range," she said.
They also hope to increase their catering business. And while food trucks are trending now, Russell said Farm Truck 912 fills her food truck niche. She chairs the board for the Forsyth Farmers' Market, the organization behind Farm Truck 912, which delivers to low-income or underserved neighborhoods.
The Sept. 8 open house will keep the community in mind, including special gifts to the first 50 attendees. Raffles will benefit Forsyth Farmers' Market, Savannah-Chatham Citizen Advocacy, Loop It Up and Deep Center.