TJ Roberts spreads love and community through coffee

Photography by Natalea Bonjour

TJ Roberts served his first cup of coffee when he was ten. When he grew up, he began working in the sales and insurance industries, but that isn’t what made him happy. Those coffee shop meetings did. So, while holding a day job, Roberts began working at coffee shops on the weekend. He was used to being the only Black person in any given space. Following the murder of George Floyd, Roberts noticed an indisputable difference in the industries––a difference in acceptance, understanding and effort to be better. This was the tipping point Roberts needed to start Kinship Cafe in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood.

How have you seen your business’s values affect your customers? I think one of the things is that we asked our customers to partner with us a lot on a lot of different initiatives. We do sound meditation therapy here and we do light therapy sessions here. We do yoga here. But also we do different things during the day, like we have mugs that we have for sale here where all the proceeds go to the School for the Blind. We’ve done things with the Kansas City, Kansas, fire department here and we’ve asked people in our community to partner with us in those aspects, and honestly, that’s been the most overwhelming thing to experience. To hear back, “Wow, I love what you’re bringing into this community and what you’re doing.” 

Are there other minority-owned small businesses that have helped shape your own business? Yes, all of the vendors that we use and that we work with, and even the artists that we have that come in. With all the opportunities that we have here with our vendors, like Asia Cakes and Crown Kreations and Smokey By Nature, Nico Nine, Erica Blasian––I mean the art from Felice to Anita Easterwood that we just got, to The Black Pantry. We really try to pride ourselves on saying, when you come to Kinship, you’re not supporting just our business; you’re supporting the culture. 

What is special about coffee aside from the act of drinking it? Well, I would have to say preparing it and brewing it since I do that every day. I love that. I believe coffee creates community. Typically when I serve a cup of coffee, I’m serving it to two people. Someone’s having a meeting with someone, someone’s catching up with an old friend or maybe even a family member or what have you—and those two people are community. And so I think the unique, euphoric thing about coffee is how it does create a group of people together around the dinner table.  

Favorite Spots

First, Coffee: “It’s definitely going to grab some coffee with some friends or with my girlfriend and be able to just have a break. So one of the places that I love is Oddly Correct. I really enjoy going and grabbing a cup of coffee, and they have amazing biscuits.”

Sports Scene: “One thing that I have enjoyed a lot of here as of late is going to different events like Sporting KC games, and I’ve been to a couple of KC Current games. Those are incredibly fun games to go to.”

Dinner and Drinks: “Going into Parlor and enjoying live music and drinks there And there’s just lots of culture there. I like going where I kind of see a little bit of everything. I also like going to grab drinks at P.S., which is a speakeasy over at Hotel Phillips.”

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