How a Conversation Over Dinner Turned Into a “Hub” for Social Awareness – and Coffee

In 2017, the doors to Third Way Café opened in the Greater Hilltop area at 3058 W. Broad St., its owner blissfully unaware of the booming social enterprise it would soon become. 

“It’s a coffee shop with a different outlook on things,” Owner Tim Rush explains.

The café, which was named to represent a “third way” of thinking, has stayed true to this mission; “third way politically is something that benefits everyone, something that represents that third perspective,” Rush says.

He wanted the café to represent a “hub” for third way thinking about socially conscious topics. To the entrepreneur, this café would be a first of its kind in the Columbus area. 

“There’s not a lot of places people could go and have a conversation about a handful of different issues,” Rush says. “It’s important for us to engage community members and neighbors on social issues that they may not have not known about.”

One of these pressing issues is mass incarceration, a focal point for the café which serves as a fair chance employer. The coffee shop also sells locally-made items, benefitting other small businesses in Central Ohio. 

You could say social entrepreneurship runs in Rush’s blood. After working for CleanTurn, owned by his father and local serial social entrepreneur John Rush, Tim couldn’t see himself ever working for a company that wasn’t socially conscious. It wasn’t until a conversation over dinner with his father three years ago that the idea for Third Way Café was born and put into fruition two weeks later.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, bringing people together at his café became a challenge Rush did not foresee. By switching to safe carryout options, Rush felt that his customers no longer had that space to talk about pressing issues.

“We had to come up with somewhat innovative ways to reach out to people,” Rush says. “That was one thing we wanted to keep alive; that community piece.”

This included virtual events such as a live poetry and music nights, online specials, and joining in on webinars to discuss social issues with the community.

“Thankfully the community really showed up for us,” Rush explains. “The amount of support we’ve gotten from the Hilltop area alone has been super encouraging.”

Throughout the pandemic, the café remained open and has recently resumed safely serving the community in a socially-distanced manner. 

Rush and his team plan to expand and get more community members involved in the mission of spreading social awareness. The café is set to open a second Third Way “location” in mid-September, via kiosk inside the All People Arts gallery, 1865 Parsons Ave. The kiosk will be the first “pop-up” shop of Third Way Café, but Rush is confident that a second location will be successful for the community.

“Honestly whether we have one shop or 25 shops, as long as each shop is doing its part and working to bring people together to pursue the common good and work on social issues together, that itself is success,” Rush says.

Rush hopes that the rising success of his own café will inspires others in the industry to open their doors for discussion and social good for all walks of life.

“When you look at the history of a café, it was a place where, no matter your status, you could come in and share your thoughts with other people there,” he says. “I think it’s important not just for our coffee shop, but for every coffee shop to encourage thought-provoking ideas, togetherness and community.” 

Nevertheless, Rush’s biggest priority through the pivot and expansion of his café remains upholding the socially-conscious discussions and education of his community.

“The goal is informing people and getting them on our team in pursuing something bigger than what’s in their own bubble,” he says.

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