Coffee and Christianity come together at the Front Porch

Campus pastor and director of the new coffee house, the Front Porch, Reverend Beau Tanner-Smith said anyone is welcome. "We want people to feel ... warmth and comfort," he said. Katelyn Sweigart - Mustang Daily

Free coffee and Wi-Fi, a game room, a Christian resources library and lots of lounge space — the Front Porch coffee house serves the college community with its newly built complex just behind the Health Center at 1468 Foothill Blvd.

Reverend Beau Tanner-Smith is a campus pastor and director of the Front Porch, which officially opened two weeks ago.

“(We) opened it up to any and all of the university community, Cuesta included, and just said ‘Hey, come over, drink free coffee, use our Internet and hang out,’” Tanner-Smith said.

The Front Porch’s goal, aside from serving the students, is to help answer the question, “How do I reconcile my faith with what’s going on in my academic life?” Tanner-Smith said.

The Front Porch is a place to discuss Christian scriptures and teachings and apply it to their studies at Cal Poly. In the future, Tanner-Smith said he hopes to have student groups meet where he can introduce a topic, like gun control and discuss.

“There’s a Christian perspective, maybe there’s an atheist perspective, maybe there’s a secularist’s perspective,” he said. “(Have) a group that’s discussion-oriented and a little less formal than a Bible study.”

The property was purchased by the Presbyterian Church in 1958. In 2004, the Front Porch was just a converted garage. A new complex was built in 2008 but wasn’t completed until this year, along with student housing called Casa Veranda. The new building’s design helps conserve water and electricity.

“When we did the design, the dream was to have a completely green development that was a huge part of what we wanted to accomplish,” Tanner-Smith said. “We didn’t accomplish getting that green stamp of approval because of a couple minor things.”

In the interior design of the coffee shop, recycled materials were incorporated mostly by accident. The coffee bar and stage were partially made from scrap wood and reclaimed aluminum siding. The bulletin board and future chalkboard menus were from a ‘50s Sunday school classroom from the First Presbyterian Church in San Luis Obispo. The church also donated 80-year-old, lantern-style ceiling lights, which had to be removed for earthquake-proof retrofitting a decade ago and were sitting in the attic.

“How we want people to feel when they come in here is an idea of warmth and comfort, maybe some cool thrown in there as well,” Tanner-Smith said.

The walls are decorated with rotating artwork, the most current being photographs for sale by Lifewater International, a Christian nonprofit that helps African, Asian and Latin American communities receive clean water. Tanner-Smith said the art on the walls has a meaning, and he hopes the Front Porch can further serve college students by reaching out to the artist community.

“We want to invite student artists to have their work up here,” he said. “Maybe have a showcasing type night where we advertise it.”

The Front Porch holds a fellowship night every Tuesday at 6 p.m., which includes food, Bible studies and music. The coffee shop also hosts guest speakers, such as Lifewater International’s Uganda director Deleo Moses, as well as Cal Poly professors, including liberal studies professor Russell Swanagon. Tanner-Smith said everybody, Christian or non-Christian, is welcome at the Front Porch.

“We want to honor and glorify God in everything that we do, so we want to be as welcoming to anybody who wants to come to the doors,” Tanner-Smith said. “But we don’t want to forsake our own identity and say, ‘We’re not about this,’ we really are about Christ, we really are about bringing Jesus to this campus. We just believe that Jesus wants us to serve this campus and that’s what we’re to be about.”

The Swanson Center is also a part of the Front Porch building, run by a Cal Poly religious group called Campus Crusade, which opened last Monday. The Swanson Center is a Christian resource library open to the public Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Recreation, parks and tourism administration freshman Amy Kelly is a Swanson Center librarian — or Swansonite, a pun on the biblical term ‘Samsonite.’

“We want people to feel comfortable to come here and discuss religion (and) just be able to experience truth, to come and ask questions, and if no one has the answers, they can look them up,” Kelly said. “We’re a fully functioning library; we have a computer system and check out books.”

Business administration freshman Sharon Durant said she met her Bible study group in the Swanson Center on its opening day. There was music playing and not many people in the center, just her group of three women in the lounge chairs.

“It’s very nice and accommodating for studying, pretty good music,” she said.

Agricultural sciences freshman Alexandra Danell volunteers as a barista for the Front Porch. While the coffee is mostly self-serve, she works the espresso machine and sometimes bakes cookies and muffins for the coffee house. She said she loves the atmosphere and likes to play billiards in the game room.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a religion, it doesn’t matter what religion you are, you can come in here and just hang out,” Danell said.

The Front Porch is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 8 p.m. to midnight and Sundays from 8 p.m. to midnight.