Hugging the Detroit River lies the quaint and bustling city of Windsor, Ontario. As the southernmost city in Canada, Windsor is known as the “Automotive Capital of Canada.” And, as the epidemic of the opioid crisis has plagued America, it knows no borders and has included small towns like Windsor in its catastrophic path.
However, just a couple of blocks from the waterfront, lies “Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound” – which isn’t your ordinary coffee house.
Coffee Shop By Day, Sober Bar By Night
Coffee shop by day, and coined, “sober bar” by night, “Spiritual Soldiers” is a hidden gem where those struggling can share hope, a cup of coffee, and camaraderie with others that have struggled with addiction.
“Normal coffee shops have acoustic music, people on laptops, and nobody really talking with each other. We wanted something where we could integrate the community and create an atmosphere for those in recovery as well as help those struggling,” explained Spiritual Soldiers owner, Mike Brown.
Mike struggled with addiction for twenty years.
“It started with alcohol and moved to crack cocaine. I ended up in a number of cities and at the end overdosed on cocaine. I truly believe there’s a big difference between I need help and I want help,” he went on. “I knew I needed help for a long time, but this last time I was emotionally and spiritually bankrupt.”
That’s when Mike landed in Windsor three years ago at a recovery home owning nothing but the clothes on his back and a hockey bag.
“I was there for ninety days, and the rules were plain and simple: ask, listen, and do what you’re told.” He went on, “we didn’t talk about drugs or alcohol. We talked about self-will, fear, self-pity, and perseverance.”
And persevere, he did. After Brown left the recovery home and attained sobriety, he took what he learned from program and found a way to give back.
Noting that the wreckage of his past was now his greatest asset, Mike researched and sought a way to do what he could to help others like himself.
“I’m not a doctor or a counselor, but I know what it’s like to wake up in the grips of an addiction, and what it’s like to get out of it. I also know how hard it is some days to get to the point of recovery where you’re starting to find some peace in your life – that’s what I wanted to share with people,” he explained, “but I also wanted to come up with something more tangible where others’ stories were involved.”
From there, Mike and his friends came up with the concept, “Spiritual Solders, and created “clothing with a cause,” donating the proceeds of the sales back to the recovery home that he lived at.
“As we say, addiction is a war and it takes soldiers to win. We started with a hat and a tank top and went down to the waterfront on the Detroit River and stopped people and talked to them about what we were doing,” he explained.
However, what started with the initial clothing items, were nothing compared to what Mike and his friends in recovery could have ever dreamed the next year would have in store.
On their own journeys to recovery, Mike crossed paths with Bianca Oliverio and James Lucier and came up with the idea of a coffee shop one summer floating in James’s pool.
“My friends and I spent an entire summer together and had an amazing time. One afternoon we were thinking, ‘imagine we had a place where everyone could come and share this positive atmosphere with people – sober.”
And then, they put the two and two together:
“In recovery, when we meet someone that needs help, we sit down for coffee. So that was it.”
Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound opened in June. The company is fully self-supporting through the sales of their coffee and clothing, and each month they take 10% of their clothing profits and donate it back to a local charity – and so far, the response has been substantial.
“Anybody is welcome. We have our clothing, coffee, and all sorts of specialty drinks we come up with. We also have a ‘mocktail’ list so people can still drink funky drinks with no alcohol in them.”
Recently having themed holiday parties and launching, “Prohibition Saturdays,” Mike and his team bring in a DJ every Saturday night.
“We have a blast, people dance on tables, and they’re all sober, just having a fun time with one another,” Mike said.
But while the themed parties and Saturday nights are about having a good time in recovery, there’s also the flip side of people who come into the store in desperate need, and Mike and his team are certain they’re not going to let anything get in the way of helping someone.
“There are people who have come in who are strung out and struggling, and we’ve gone as far as closing the shop down to take someone to the hospital. Sometimes we see people through the whole recovery process. We watch them get into a recovery home and then get out, and then they come in for coffee. Our average customer isn’t just, ‘can I get a latte and leave.’ We spend a good 20 to 25 minutes with every customer.”
“It’s Magical The Stories You Hear”
As for the ‘normies’ who walk into the coffee shop?
“We don’t have signs or fliers up promoting sobriety, but we’re also trying to break the stigma of addiction and recovery,” Brown said. “Some people come in and wonder what we’re all about, but, from us being vulnerable it’s crazy the people who come in and just open up. It’s magical the stories we hear.”
Explaining that their clothing and coffee is a by-product of their business, Mike said, “This is about real people coming in and needing help. Not a lot of people have access to that one-on-one life experience.”
On what’s next for “Spiritual Soldiers?” Soon to open their clothing brand online, they hope to bring their message to a new platform across North America.
“The clothing isn’t just a piece of clothing. And the coffee isn’t just a cup of coffee. We want people to be able to wear our clothing and drink our coffee and be proud of who they are,” Mike said. “We did some pretty shitty things as addicts and alcoholics, but we’re not bad people, we’re sick. When we’re treated, we have love and compassion. It’s our way of sharing hope through a piece of clothing and through a cup of coffee.”
Spiritual Soldier’s Mission Statement
A call to arms to raise awareness for addiction. We want to take away the depiction of the old man wearing a torn and ratty, tweed trench coat with the finger tips cut off his gloves clutching a bottle of whisky draped in a brown paper bag. We want to take away the misconception that “it could never happen to you” and place it right in your back yard. The reality is everyone is or has known some one who has been affected by addiction.
When people hear the word spirituality they immediately associate it with god or religion. The truth is spirituality comes through so many different forms. You could find spirituality through love, music, meditation, or sports. It’s whatever speaks to you. The possibilities after having a spiritual awakening are endless. Spirituality is your ability to surrender to something greater than yourself. A way to find peace with who you are. To be comfortable in your own skin. For alcoholics and addicts this is nearly impossible. When we are in our addiction it is always dark and that metaphorical light seems very dim and very far. We need help and we need help to see ourselves.
Our mission is to fight back against this global epidemic. Addiction is a war and a war can’t be won without soldiers.