MOUNT VERNON – As the warm winter sun beams through Happy Bean’s front wall of windows, Mariah Bevington gets to work.
It’s a typical Tuesday morning at the downtown Mount Vernon coffee shop. A couple sits at the two-person table near the window, clutching mugs and conversing. A group of college students populates one of the large, wooden tables, fervently reviewing class notes. On the north wall, underneath hand-made artwork, adults with backpacks and notepads hunker over their laptops, using the coffee shop as their office for the day.
With the line for coffee and muffins finally gone, Bevington pulls out a thick black Sharpie and a stack of cardboard cup sleeves. Sitting on a stool behind the cash register, she methodically works through the stack, leaving little notes on each sleeve.
You are not alone, one says. Embrace the wait, says another. You are loved.
The notes are four or five words, tops. Simple messages.
But to her customers, they’re everything.
The idea began last spring, Koryn Bosworth recalled.
Bosworth, a sophomore at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, has worked at Happy Bean for a year-and-a-half. She was in the shop one day with fellow barista Kate Decker, a 2019 MVNU grad, and they were bored.
“We were just sitting and there wasn’t much to do, and we were just thinking about, ‘What’s something we can do to brighten someone’s day?’ Something little,” Bosworth said. “Because being at Happy Bean, there’s such a unique opportunity to make lots of little impacts that can mean really big things.”
Bosworth is an early childhood education major at MVNU. She ultimately wants to help children – whether that be as a teacher, or through mission-oriented work. At her heart, though, she strives to serve others.
“And so we’re like, ‘Well, we can just write little notes on these,’” Bosworth recalled. “We’d heard of it being done before, and so we’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
Bosworth and Decker wrote the notes initially on a few cup sleeves. They were short, inspiring messages, aimed at helping people make it through the day.
To the customers that received them, though, they meant much more.
“We’ve had such a huge response from it…” Happy Bean owner Jill Ballenger said. “It has meant so much to so many people, where they get just the right quote for that particular day, for what they needed."
In the months since Bosworth and Decker began the ritual, Happy Bean has been flooded with feedback. Customers have posted pictures of the cup sleeves on Facebook and Instagram, tagging the coffee shop and praising staff members for their encouragement.
“Some people have told us that they save them and post them and keep them on their wall, just because they mean so much to them," Ballenger said. "Some people have been brought to tears because it was just the right thing to say to them at that particular moment.”
Cup sleeves are meant to serve as a buffer between a customer’s hands and their hot drink. But ever since Happy Bean began its handwritten tradition, the little cardboard devices have become sources of inspiration.
“We have heard and seen on social media that it actually has completely changed the course of our customer's day, over and over... it's actually been a little unbelievable how relevant [they are], and some have felt as if it is directly meant for them, as if it's from God,” Ballenger said.
“We all chose to do this type of job because it gives us opportunities to encourage people all day long, and this is something they can take with them as a reminder they are known, they are loved and that they matter.”
To date, Ballenger estimates Happy Bean has distributed over 3,500 cup sleeves with inspirational messaging.
What started as Bosworth and Decker’s idea to pass the time has become a ritual at the coffee shop. All 10 of its employees have a hand in writing notes on the sleeves, and at least 30 sleeves are kept in reserve in case a rush hits.
“They don’t want to put any sleeves out now unless they have writing on them,” Ballenger said with a laugh.
Bevington, who has worked at the shop for a little over a year, writes most of the notes. While the staff keeps handy a list of 20 phrases to cycle through, Bevington often uses her imagination to think up original sayings. She’ll write them in between customers, all day long.
“A lot of them just come from what I’m feeling in my heart, that people might need to hear. I go off of a lot of life experiences that I may be dealing with, or that I know other people are going through,” she said. “Sometimes we just kind of look on the internet for ideas, when we’re kind of in a slump.”
Bevington also writes a weekly saying on the board above the sink, behind the shop’s counter. When people pick up their order, they see the quote straight ahead, typically written in an illustrious fashion.
“I just really love art…” said Bevington, a 2017 Mount Vernon High School graduate. She saw the plain board a while back and envisioned an opportunity.
“Being able to just encourage people that way as well, because they’ll see it when they go and get their coffee, and they can look right at it and read that... It’s kind of my way to express what I’m feeling that week," she said.
The handwritten cup-sleeve notes serve a similar purpose for Bevington and the shop's customers. Each time they get a to-go cup and they pick up a sleeve to carry it with, they receive her words of positivity.
“I love having the opportunity to encourage someone,” Bevington said. “I see so many people will look through the different sleeves to find something that really speaks to them. So it’s just really cool when they stand there and they’re like, ‘Wow, I love this. This spoke to me today. I needed it.’”
Bevington’s attitude towards giving fits in well at Happy Bean. The shop also gives back to the community through its #BrewHope fundraiser, where one local nonprofit each quarter receives a portion of the shop’s proceeds, as well as 100 percent of the proceeds from its sticker sales.
Kindness manifests itself in many ways at Happy Bean. Ballenger said it’s part of the shop’s culture.
“Every single one of [our employees] loves people and took this job because it was a job that could encourage people,” Ballenger said.
When Bosworth and Decker began the cup sleeve initiative last spring, they didn’t ask Ballenger for permission.
They figured she’d be fine with it. They were right.
“I was just intrigued and I loved it,” Ballenger said, “and they just kept it going.”
To Ballenger and her staff, Happy Bean is more than just a coffee shop. It’s a community gathering spot.
“What I’ve always told them from day one is that a coffee shop is a completely different type of business than where a lot of people go during the day,” Ballenger said. “People take time while they’re here to catch their breath and chat a little bit, and we just want this to be a place of positive encouragement for them.”
It’s a place where students from MVNU, Kenyon and COTC gather to study – or socialize. It’s a place where people go on coffee dates and conduct business meetings. It’s a place where Mount Vernon slows down and drinks something warm.
“I think the atmosphere that our coffee shop gives off is light and airy,” manager Annabelle Harray said. “So I think my hope is that when people do come in, they leave feeling better than when they came.”
To many, visiting Happy Bean is a daily routine. Bevington hopes the handwritten cup sleeves will make that daily routine a little bit brighter.
“They come here and in the morning, it’s their stop before they get their day started, or their week started,” Bevington said. “It’s important for us to be able to provide encouragement for people – to provide them with the necessities that they might need to get through the week. And for those sleeves, it’s like their reminder that they can carry with them, even when they run into some tough stuff.”
Bosworth believes the notes are a direct reflection of the shop’s mission: to bring the community together.
“I think that writing on these is just a really great example of how we want to be a welcoming place to Mount Vernon," she said, "and a place where people really feel at-home and really feel comfortable being themselves."
Looking back on it now, Bosworth is amazed by how far her idea has come. What began as a few words on a cardboard sleeve has turned into a community-wide source of strength.
“It just started as a really simple thing,” she said, “and it’s just grown into something that means a lot to a lot of people.”