Blueprint Coffee was entering its second year of business in St. Louis, Missouri, when unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, just a few miles from the Blueprint cafe.
The owners saw that their community was hurting, and focused on offering support to those who needed it in whatever way they could.
“At that point we were only a year old, and I don’t think we really understood much about social media and company voice,” Blueprint Coffee Owner Mike Marquard recently told DCN.
Three years later, in 2017, when a judge acquitted St. Louis police officer James Stockley of murder charges after he shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith, Blueprint spoke out again. The company also spoke out publicly on gun violence issues and racism throughout the presidency of Donald Trump.
“We took a pretty forward stance with our feelings on that,” said Marquard. “People were familiar with our brand, but we still received quite a bit of feedback, both positive and negative.”
Through it all, Blueprint Coffee has grown into three retail locations in St. Louis: the original coffee bar and roastery on Delmar Boulevard in University City; a popular Watson location that used to house an auto shop; and a third location in the city’s literary arts building.
As they currently prepare to build out an approximately 11,000-square-foot space that will become their new roastery, headquarters and training center, the Blueprint team has not abandoned plans for social activism, especially regarding gun violence and institutional racism.
Black Lives Matter signs are displayed in the windows of Blueprint’s three cafes, and blog posts about systemic racism live throughout the Blueprint website. Yet the most impactful representation of Blueprint’s public stance against gun violence may be its current Instagram campaign, in which prominent blue squares on the Blueprint grid highlight gun-related tragedies of the past.
Wanting to confront the issue of gun violence both locally and throughout the United States, the Blueprint owners began strategizing ways in which to publicly express their collective voice. Instead of offering a one-off post after a new tragedy unfolds — a strategy that is reactive — the owners decided to focus on past incidents, offering consistent reminders of the human impacts of gun violence.
“We wanted to make it something that isn’t easy to forget or overlook, because that seems to be what happens if something awful happens in the community,” said Marquard. “People are outraged for a while and then people start to heal and go back to life as it was. I don’t think the pain goes away, just the shock and awe.”
The bright blue squares stand out among the photos of latte art and bags of coffee. The latest reads “May 15, 2022. 10 DEAD. Buffalo, NY.” The next one reads, “April 20, 1999. 10 DEAD. Columbine, CO.” Each has captions outlining the tragedy and honoring the lives lost.
Against the backdrop of Instagram, where the timeline always moves forward, these snapshots of important moments in American history create a somber effect, emphasizing the permanence of gun violence. Their juxtaposition with shots of latte art, coffee bags and other familiar coffee-focused IG images is equally intentional.
As of this writing, there have been 223 mass shootings in the United States in 2023, which equates to more than 1.6 mass shootings per day.
“This is where we’re at as a culture,” says Marquard. “There’s a coffee culture. There’s a food and beverage culture, but there’s also a violence culture.”
Blueprint wants to talk about both.
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Jen Roberts is a Mexico City-based writer and avid coffee drinker. She’s currently writing a book on women in coffee.