Written by Patti Larson
Photo by Elizabeth Martinez
You might think something took the wind out of their sails, prompting Tom West and Shannon Francis to sell their sailboat a couple years ago. Turns out it was quite the opposite. They were just setting course for a new journey.
With three grown kids who had left the nest, they were debating what the next course of their life would be. A little bit of reflection over a bottle of wine (or two) was all it took to decide a coffee shop would be their next venture. Both were technology vets, Tom in aerospace and Shannon in IT, and the two had decided to move on from their corporate jobs and do something more aligned with their passion.
Thankfully for Long Beach the couple decided to moor their shop right on Pine Avenue, where business was seeing a noticeable uptick. “We love Long Beach! We like that there is such a diversity of people and varied backgrounds, but also this sense of community that makes it so easy to connect with others,” Tom shared. Shannon echoed the sentiment. “We already live in town, but Long Beach has been very welcoming for our business as well.”
So they opened Long Beach Coffee & Tea, a place for people to commune, have a pastry or sandwich and a cup of coffee. Everything is made fresh to order, as Tom emphasizes, “Nothing is frozen or made ahead, it’s basically what I would serve my family.” While some customers are hurriedly out the door on their way to work or school, many order to go but the friendly atmosphere is so enticing, they pull up a seat and stay a while. And isn’t that what every business owner desires?
Tom and Shannon take it a step further. “Every second and fourth Friday, we host a ‘free coffee and pastries morning’ for local Veterans who might be struggling in some way, along with local red coats, (Long Beach’s own downtown safety and welcome ambassadors), so they can meet other Vets, maybe share job opportunities — just feel valued,” they shared. Tom served in the marine corps himself, and he likes being a conduit to that segment of the community. Shannon and her family have a history of military service, too. “We also donate 100% of proceeds from our drip coffee sales and do a clothing drop off for Vets. Last year we had about 115 of them decorate ornaments for our Christmas tree, where on the back it noted something they needed or wanted, and by Christmas Eve, our customers had donated as many presents or more to fulfill their wishes.” That’s some holiday spirit!
But when you talk with them a little longer, you learn they have a passion for another often sidelined group as well–the transgender community.
“Soon we plan to start roasting our own coffee, and profits from that part of the business will help us focus on our other mission, which is to build a trans center, and not just for locals but from all over so they can have a safe place and a learning place, for parents, for individuals. We know this is an often misunderstood group, from our own personal experience, so why not do something about it ourselves?” Tom shared.
Long Beach Coffee & Tea is already a very welcome place for the LGBT community, partly evident by their rainbow colored sign. Long Beach is among one of California’s top cities with a large gender-diverse population, and so Tom and Shannon see this as their base for promoting their website as well, which will have a subscriber set up.
“We want to have a hub where people from all over the world who are trans or struggling with trans issues can connect. Perhaps a young person in Japan can learn from someone older in Ireland who has already transitioned. We need to be supportive in a world where the transgender population is still misunderstood and mistreated.” said Tom.
We hope the wind is at their backs.