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Caffe Amouri Brews Stronger Sense of Neighborhood With Pay-It-Forward Program

There are a number of things that give Caffe Amouri owner Michael Amouri a warm feeling: drinking a cup of coffee, unsurprisingly, getting to a toll booth and learning someone paid it forward, and stopping to chat with someone in the street.

But those feel-good community moments have been hard to come by during the pandemic.

In the hopes of reviving that neighborly goodwill among his customers, Amouri has introduced a pay-it-forward “Cup on the Wall” program to his Vienna coffee shop. He was inspired by the Vienna Foodies and the Italian practice of caffè sospeso — literally “pending coffee” — when a cup of coffee is paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity.

Customers ordering in-person or online can choose to buy any drink on the menu for someone else. Staff put a sticker on the window for someone to “cash in” when they order.

“If you’re feeling a little down, come and let a ‘friend’ buy you a drink,” he said.

It can be for anyone, particularly people who cannot afford a cup of coffee, but also for someone having a bad day or celebrating their birthday, Amouri says. The option will be available as long as the community engages with it.

Though it has mostly stayed open, Caffe Amouri has not been offering indoor service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Competitively, we’ve probably lost some ground, but I just don’t feel I can do it,” Amouri said.

Customers can order in-person from one window, or pick up an online purchase from another window. The coffeehouse’s interior is configured to allow for six feet of distance between staff members, and staff and delivery workers are screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms.

Amouri plans to reopen after his staff is vaccinated.

“I have amazing staff and I can’t believe they’ve weathered it so well,” he said.

Amouri says he founded his shop nearly 11 years ago on the principles of quality, community, and sustainability. During the pandemic, he said the cafe’s role as a liaison among the government, the Vienna Business Association board — which Amouri sits on — and residents has grown in importance.

He commended Vienna residents for supporting local businesses and making the small town “feel even more small-townish.”

“There are times when I go, ‘I didn’t want to have a coffeehouse and hand coffee out a window’,” he said. “But as long as we can keep our doors open until we can fully open, I’m going to count that as a success.”

Photo courtesy Michael Amouri

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