An opportunity to change someone’s life can come over a cup of coffee. That’s the approach The Potter’s House Inc. has taken over 21 years in business, says associate director Samson Latchison.
“Potter’s House has maintained that balance between love and evangelism,” Latchison says of the nonprofit coffee shop’s Christian roots. “Not a track. Not ‘If you die tonight, do you know where you’re going?’ Instead, ‘Do you want whipped cream with your latte?’ and using that to build relationships over time.”
While Latchison was not part of founding The Potter’s House, he joined the team two months after husband-and-wife Steve and Berna Proffitt opened the doors in November 2000. According to The Potter’s House website, the Proffitts had spent 20 years in ministry when they felt God calling them to the next chapter of their lives.
They assumed that meant they would be leaving Springfield to continue ministry work elsewhere, but it became apparent God was calling them to fill a void right where they were.
Latchison says the idea for The Potter’s House came from a desire to give students an alternative to the bar scene. It’s located across from the Missouri State University campus.
“Steve was driving up National Avenue and saw a young man stagger into the street, drunk,” Latchison says. “He looked around at all the ministry houses that were closed at that time of day, and he wanted to provide a place that would be open later than usual.”
The Proffitts wanted to have a location that was easily accessible to college students, so they acquired a house across National Avenue from Missouri State University and converted it to fit their needs.
The early stages of the business involved a lot of trial and error. Between Latchison and the Proffitts, there was no experience in the business world. They started the business with only ministry experience and a desire to help others.
“Our prices were unbelievably cheap,” Latchison says. “For example, we had bottomless chips and salsa for $1. We had bottomless coffee for $1. A lot of times students would come in without cash, and we couldn’t do cards back in the day, so we had this huge IOU list.”
In addition to figuring out how to successfully run a business, Latchison had to learn to make drinks. He says there were times he was up until 4 a.m. teaching himself to make a desirable product.
In 2002, the decision was made by the Proffitts that The Potter’s House would be a nonprofit business, and that added another element. It has always been a goal for prices to be as low as possible.
As a nonprofit, The Potter’s House is donor funded. According to Latchison, 60% of the business’ donor base comes from the Church of the Nazarene and 40% comes from student alumni donations. The donations cover upkeep costs for the building and other bills while the money from selling drinks goes to buying groceries and other supplies.
Another thing that has changed is The Potter’s House’s approach to ministry. In the early days, they put on events to reach a different crowd and provide alternatives to traditional hangout spots, like bars. As more ministries have developed and grown on Springfield campuses, The Potter’s House has stepped back their event hosting and taken more of an encouraging, supportive role of the work of the other ministries.
“We don’t want to infringe on the activities of other ministries,” Latchison says. “We don’t want to create a competition. We want to be a group that assists other ministries.”
The Potter’s House has continued to press on with their original goals despite recent tough times, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of co-founder Steve Proffitt.
Steve died in early October at the age of 67 after a diagnosis of a rare illness called smoldering myeloma-associated AL amyloidosis. This disease causes a malfunction of the plasma-producing cells in bone marrow that causes them to create abnormal antibodies.
Because of his treatments, Steve was unable to be very involved with the business in recent years, Latchison says, but Berna stepped in to lead the business and has continued in that role after Steve’s death.
The COVID-19 pandemic was also hard on The Potter’s House, just like it was for many businesses, but Latchison made sure the door was always open during the normal hours, even if he was the only person inside.
The importance that The Potter’s House places on forming relationships and community is what drew customer Jake Day back to the business after his first visit.
“I first went to Potter’s House my freshman year with Young Life College Springfield, and what stuck out to me was the home atmosphere of the place,” Day says. “It felt like I was just at one of my friends’ houses. Samson and all the staff have created the most welcoming environment I have ever been in.”
Day makes trips to The Potter’s House three or four times a week. He appreciates the atmosphere for studying, and he really enjoys seeing people he knows from his classes there. He says it’s like a second home.
Daniel Loaney was invited to Bible studies at The Potter’s House during his freshman year at MSU. He quickly grew to love the comfortable environment that had been cultivated in the business.
“Potter’s House has a cozy, homelike feel, but that doesn’t just come from it being in an old house,” Loaney says. “The staff really make you feel seen and welcomed. They are some of the most genuine people I have ever met.”
Loaney says people go to The Potter’s House because they want to meet people. He appreciates the efforts of Latchison and the rest of the staff to make connections and make The Potter’s House a safe place everyone.
Read the profiles of this year's honorees.