When partners Sonam Parikh and Kate Egghart decided to open Mina’s World, they set about creating the workplace they always wished they had. Colorful drinks, a cheerful space, and accessible prices are the hallmark of this year-old cafe and community hub, the first QTPOC-owned coffee shop in Philadelphia. But in building their dream workplace from the ground up, the young entrepreneurs encountered their share of setbacks—from contractors who questioned their authority to a forced closure just weeks after opening.
For advice, they turned to a favorite saying of Egghart’s mother, Eunjoo, who goes by EJ: “You catch more flies with honey.” After immigrating to the US, EJ worked for years to put herself through night school as a single mother. Her message of rising above conflict—and not letting others dim your joy and vibrancy—helped Parikh and Egghart through the hardest moments. “It’s important to not let yourself be taken advantage of but also to know that sometimes people are looking for a fight,” Egghart said. “You don’t necessarily have to give that to them. There’s a possibility for sweetness there.”
This is also the ethos of Mina’s World: sweetness for all. From their fan-favorite “pink drinks” (house-made chai with rose syrup) to the free strawberries filling the community fridge outside, the cafe aims to provide comfort and connection for people of all identities. To create this atmosphere, the owners approached everything about the space—decor, menu, pricing, employee training—with equity in mind. Mina’s World offers community gift cards for anyone without cash or just having a bad day, and Parikh guarantees that several menu items will always be under $3. (A samosa is $2, as is a cup of drip coffee.) “Lack of funds should not mean lack of access to nice things, small luxuries, little sweet moments,” the owners shared.
“Coffee is a luxury, right?” Parikh said. “You don’t need to buy a latte to survive in this world. What we seek to do is create a really beautiful experience, and also note that because of our desire for across-the-board equity, we want to share that luxury experience with as many people as possible.”
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“It’s important to not let yourself be taken advantage of but also to know that sometimes people are looking for a fight. You don’t necessarily have to give that to them.”
Never intimidating, but always impressive
There’s always been a Mina’s World. It first started as an independent music label, which Parikh and Egghart named after their cat, Mina. Later, working in cafes in their twenties, the pair began to burn out from facing transphobia and other inequities in the workplace. In 2017, they began dreaming up a business that would not only hire queer and trans people of color but celebrate all the things that made them different—a mantra that would later become their marketing strategy. “We are who we are,” Egghart said. “It’s cliche to say ‘be yourself,’ but if yourself is something people might be into, they’ll respond to that. I think honesty is attractive.”
Still, Parikh and Egghart said it was often hard to be taken seriously because of their age and background. “People we hired to work on the cafe were looking for somebody else [as the] authority,” Parikh said. “I think it’s really hard for people to imagine me and Kate in a position where we do have buying power.” After securing a loan from friends and family, they cycled through several contractors before finding the right team that would help bring to life the bright, welcoming facade customers see today.
With Mina’s World, Parikh and Egghart hoped to return the cafe to its original purpose: a place where people can organize, fundraise, and meet their neighbors. Today, many customers are familiar with a certain type of sterile, minimalist cafe: You order your espresso and get out. At Mina’s World, questions are encouraged. No one will correct your drink order. As Parikh said: “We do not aim to be intimidating, but we always aim to be impressive.”
This commitment informed all of their business decisions, from design to customer service. The sunshine-yellow bar—with tiles Egghart designed and inlaid—beckons from 52nd Street, a bustling business corridor in West Philadelphia. With every visit, new and delightful details emerge: a rainbow “open” sign, their smiling logo, bucket hats for sale (a collaboration between Mina’s World and a local home goods shop, Holsol Studio). This warmth is also baked into the menu, with items inspired by the owners’ culture, including samosas and yuja-cha, a traditional Korean tea that Egghart’s mother made on rainy days.
True to its mission, Mina’s World also nurtures those who spend the most time in the shop: their workforce. The owners pay staff a livable wage and train new employees based on their own comfort level and career aspirations. Their goal is to create a space where everyone feels welcome—on both sides of the bar. Egghart said: “Coffee is really pretentious or has the ability to be almost gatekeeping in a way. At the end of the day, we just want the coffee and our beverages and services to be accessible to people, so they don’t feel like they’re being judged when they order. We want it to be a very accessible space and accessible experience.”
Lessons in coffee and inclusion
Early into its business journey, Mina’s World had an opportunity to put this mission to the test, as the pandemic closed the cafe 18 days after the soft opening. In West Philadelphia, which has weathered both COVID-19 and recent waves of gentrification, residents were struggling to find produce and other goods during the pandemic—especially as recent supermarket closures widened racial inequities in food access. “It was time to actually do what we said we would and do something useful and helpful,” Parikh said.
Fighting displacement has long been a priority for Parikh: At the age of 14, their family was gentrified out of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where their father owned a small shop and regularly contributed groceries to neighbors in need. To help their own customers at Mina’s World, Parikh turned to the job they love best: feeding others. They partnered with other local businesses to host The People’s Fridge—a community fridge dedicated to Parikh’s father—on the sidewalk outside the cafe, which now feeds hundreds of people weekly. Its presence has also sparked meaningful connection, as customers from the salon next door stop in for a chai, and neighborhood kids come every weekend asking for free candy and fruit from the fridge.
Photo by Becca Haydu
This year has been a learning experience for the owners, who say their pandemic pivots helped the cafe grow and change to better serve its community. They’re eager to share these lessons with curious customers who ask questions about the fridge, menu items, and Parikh and Egghart themselves. “Whether or not they realize it, they’re also receiving a lot of literacy in understanding what a trans person looks like and what gay and queer people look like,” Parikh said. “All of it is such a regenerative cycle because it creates teaching and joy and understanding of your neighbor, which is our whole goal.”