Blind Munchies looks to build religious relationships

Posted December 3, 2021

Editor’s note: Student journalists from Falcon News Service have focused this semester on covering the role of religion in western Wisconsin. This is one of a series of stories.

Near the UW-River Falls campus sits a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop called The Blind Munchies. It’s run by Street Level Ministries, a Christian ministry of Believers Church and a student organization on campus.

Jonah Johnson is the local pastor for Street Level Ministries and is the manager of the coffeehouse. Johnson said the idea for the coffeehouse dates back Tim Dodson, the head pastor for the church in Menomonie where Believers Church is located. Dodson had experience being a barista before joining Believers Church in the early 2000s. Dodson thought it would be unique to offer coffee to students, Johnson said.

“It actually was quite ahead of the curve. I mean nobody else was doing coffeehouses, there wasn’t Caribou Coffee or Starbucks around here. So it was a place, I suppose, similar to a bar you could say, but rather than selling beer they were selling coffee,” Johnson said.

The first Blind Munchies Coffeehouse was based in Menomonie and it was opened in January 1997 by Dodson. Once the popularity grew over the years the idea of expanding became possible. In August 2019 the Blind Munchies opened its doors in River Falls at 115 W. Cascade Ave.

“The area of River Falls was always an interest because we had Bible studies that met on campus and we had a lot of outreach programs this area,” Johnson said. “This location fit the same demographic of our Menomonie location because it has that same college town feel.”

The interior décor has no religious signage or messages, something that was done on purpose. Johnson said the reason for this was to create a welcoming environment where patrons could walk in and not be engulfed in religious material. Johnson added the goal was to make it feel as close to an ordinary coffee shop as possible.

The Blind Munchies is non-profit will all proceeds going towards funding projects organized by the church. Employees at the coffeehouse are volunteers for the church who are unpaid and are working as an act of service, Johnson said. The coffeehouse has no main goal other than to build a community where people can connect with each other, he added.

“I don’t think there’s a single goal with any one aspect. They’re all working together to give people opportunity to get involved and also to outreach at the same time,” Johnson said.

Johnson is in his 18th year of working with Street Level Ministries. After being around religious college students for that long he has noticed changes in young adult spirituality. Johnson said there has been a difference in the approach to how students find higher powers.

“I think people are generally after the same kind of answers in life, they just get answered in different ways,” Johnson said.

Johnson said his favorite part of being involved with the Blind Munchies are the people. Johnson said it’s not about the idea of making money but rather whoever is working behind the counter. He added he is blessed to a part the coffeehouse and the church.

“There is no purpose without the people,” Johnson said. “Without the people there are no projects.”