“I just love people,” says Joshua Bingaman, giving out hugs and handshakes like some sort of Bohemian politician working a crowd, a wide grin adorning his bearded face all the while. “My favorite part of being a business owner is getting to see all these people every day,” he says, sidling up to a café table, a steaming cup of joe in hand.
The owner of Progress Coffee, Bingaman has become a neighborhood devotee and somewhat of an icon in this Eastside community, a fact that is apparent in the faces of his dedicated customers when they spot him across the café. In fact, in the three short years since Progress opened, Bingaman and wife and co-owner Sarah have created a hip, sophisticated and comfy community gathering place that has helped revive a worn and struggling neighborhood. Where before existed a dilapidated and forgotten warehouse and loading dock now sits an upbeat, bustling coffee shop, welcoming customers to come on in, sip a latte and stay awhile.
But this is no ordinary coffee shop where an espresso costs $5, counter employees have little to offer other than a sour attitude and an atmosphere of pretension and self-importance fills the room. From its inception, Bingaman wanted Progress to be a friendly and welcoming hangout where locals could stop in daily for a delicious cup of coffee and a relaxing chat with friends while checking out some local art or live music. And as consummate advocates of a sustainable and green lifestyle, the Bingamans serve up only fair trade, organic coffee, and fresh, organic food that comes from local farmers. But, surprisingly, the couple wasn’t sure initially that their eco-friendly, fair trade coffee shop concept would thrive in Austin.
“Living in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles like we did, it wasn’t an option to live green; it’s just what you did,” Bingaman says. “You’d buy things that supported the local economy, you recycled and you bought organic products. We were pretty worried early on that Progress wasn’t going to work with our organic offerings, but one day we just started getting busier, and now people really embrace those ideals.”
Bingaman’s newest Progress location –opening soon in the Green square development near Georgetown– is a monument to green building, will boast solar power and rain-water-collection systems and is on track to become the first LEED-certified cafe in the region.
“Whether it’s for Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Sustainable Food Center or some other charity, every event we host at Progress is some sort of fundraiser,” Bingaman says. “And it’s worked out really well. People see an opportunity to give and they are happy to do it. That’s huge. So why not have a coffee shop that can be an outlet for charity?”
The first Austin location to display one of 13 shiny, cherry-red bicycles in support of the HCRA’s Red Bike Project, Progress will also sponsor several riders – mem- bers of the Progress Cycling Community Club – in this year’s Hill Country Ride for AIDS event.
Bingaman’s philosophy of giving back to his community comes from a much more embedded value and belief system of caring and open-mindedness. Indeed, Progress employs several gay men and lesbians, and has become a mecca of sorts for many in Austin’s gay community. Though this was uninten- tional, Bingaman welcomes the variety in his clientele, and has become friends with many Progress-lobing lesbians and gays.
Though straight (and the recent proud papa of new baby boy Samuel), Bingaman professes an affinity for the gay community, a connection that began when he catered to many gay customers at the funky Subterranean Shoe Room he owned in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. Indeed, some of Bingaman’s closet friends in life are gay, a circumstance that was never an issue for him.
“I become friends with someone, or employ someone or bring them in to my life in some way because I connect with them on some level,” Bingaman says. “It’s not about who that person is dating; it’s that person’s attitude, their heart, spirit and personality that matter.”
With that philosophy in mind, Bingaman has established a lively and hospitable business that supports and welcomes all members of the Austin community.
“I guess the bottom line is that Progress is not about attracting people of a certain race or religion or sexuality,” Bingaman says. “I want Progress to be that fun, friendly, neighborhood coffee shop destination that welcomes absolutely everybody.”
Now that’s progress!