Crystal Weaver

Caring for others in as many areas as possible can be transformative in more than just one community. 

Crystal Weaver is nothing if not a dreamer. 

She’s opened almost a handful of kitchens, cafés and community spaces without so much as a five, or even one year plan. Rigid timelines never meshed well with her anything-can-happen attitude. In the abstract, her work isn’t unlike that of a well-seasoned farmer, only choosing opportunities at their ripest, nurturing ideas into fruition and accepting that some will wilt and die in an inhabitable climate. Her life’s work culminated into several hospitality institutions that would prove not only useful, but transformative for the community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania and beyond. 

When Crystal started Prince Street Café in 2006, right at the inception of the third wave coffee movement, it wasn’t a deep love of coffee that drove her to undertake the task of opening a small business. It was a budding curiosity of the nuances of entrepreneurship––creating beautiful spaces in historic buildings, actualizing ideas that had been swimming around in her brain, collaborating with friends whose strengths are different from hers. It would take a few years for her to fall in love with coffee, and even then, that love cohabitated in her heart with a deep love for her community. She came to know her neighbors by serving them day in and day out. Strangers turned into regulars and eventually she’d find herself hard pressed to go anywhere without seeing someone she knew from the café. 

Over the next decade and a half, Crystal would open a number of hospitality ventures that would lead to her biggest project, Commons, the umbrella company under which five other businesses thrive. 

The word itself is ancient, dating back to the middle ages, and its meaning hasn’t changed much since then. It signifies a place for people to gather, share a meal and fellowship with one another. Coffee and food have always been catalysts for social connection. They’re deeply ingrained in our culture and they are best served by a compassionate host. Commons, in a way, is a compassionate host for a handful of entities that strive to provide the community with a beautiful meeting place, excellent products and unforgettable service. 

One of the most notable businesses thriving under the warm blanket of Commons is Passenger Coffee. Crystal started Passenger in 2014 alongside her business partner, Kyle Sollenberger, and raised it into a mainstay café of Lancaster. They’re known and loved for carefully sourcing and roasting specialty coffees with great care in beautiful spaces. But beyond delicious coffees, they’re B Corp certified, which means they not only are good, they do good. A B Corp Certification, in short, holds businesses accountable by ensuring they are benefiting the environment, as well as all folks involved in their operation. This ranges from the folks Passenger buys coffee from to the folks they serve coffee to and the baristas in between. The through line here is care. Caring for others in as many areas as possible, in the most thoughtful way possible can be transformative in more than just one community. 

One small, but mighty way Crystal ensures care for her guests is through the thoughtful design of her spaces. 

She houses her concepts in old buildings and builds them out to complement the history of the building. They’re a mix of now and then––white walls that reflect natural light paired with wood paneling harkening back to midcentury; speckled quartz countertops to commune around and penny tile to usher guests in the door. Her spaces are even adorned with decades old, well-loved houseplants that belonged to folks who transitioned from their homes into assisted living facilities. The elements of her spaces are not haphazard. They’re carefully considered and executed to ensure each space is unique and true to its concept.

Passenger Coffee is an image of the expansiveness of hospitality that stems from Commons Company. Service matters far beyond the bar. At its core, hospitality is taking care of others in the most thoughtful way possible. This applies to the coffee industry in a handful of ways. The manner in which a team builds and maintains relationships with growers and producers can send a shockwave of prosperity through the supply chain. A positive interaction over a cup of carefully brewed coffee can ripple out into the community. As Crystal grew her businesses, she asked herself questions constantly: Is this mutually beneficial? Is something out of balance? If so, how can we fix it? Have we worked toward righting the wrongs that may exist in the supply chain? The decisions she makes for her business have the power to affect communities abroad, starting in Lancaster. For Crystal, that’s what hospitality is all about.

Years ago, before Passenger was even an inkling, Crystal was reflecting upon almost five years of café ownership at Prince Street and she realized she had cumulatively employed 80 people.

Eighty people! At the time, that felt like such an enormous impact on her community. These days, Commons has well over 80 people on the payroll at any given time. As she scanned the list of her previous employees she remembered how many of them had moved along to other fields of work, to the end goals they were always headed toward. And their time at her café was a brief but necessary pitstop in the course of their lives. 

The hospitality industry routinely faces one of the highest turnover rates in the entire labor market. These jobs have very few barriers to entry and offer on-the-job training and flexible hours, making serving gigs and café jobs attractive to people entering or reentering the workforce, students, part-timers, etc. While high turnover rates are often spoken of with a negative connotation, the transience of coffee jobs isn’t necessarily a negative thing. 

Watching her employees move on from their time at her café used to feel tragic to Crystal. Plenty of the folks who enter the hospitality industry have no intention to plant roots for longer than is beneficial to them. This meant even if she had a team that worked super well together, she could expect it to fragment within the year and she’d be back in the hiring process. But eventually she started seeing it a different way. For most, coffee is a stop along the way to something else. It’s a gig that gets them through college until they settle into their career field. It’s a soft landing into a new city, where someone can meet locals and plug into a community. It’s a few extra shifts a week to make rent. For a lot of people, their coffee job is an impermanent, but very necessary stage in their life.

It was then that Crystal realized her immense impact as an employer.

She could offer simply transactional jobs to people, or she could create an experience for them that is genuinely useful in their life. The latter requires building relationships with her employees, finding and highlighting their strengths, and encouraging them to move toward their goals, whether or not those goals are in coffee. Crystal was creating community spaces where her guests could feel at home, a goal that she shares with most every café owner. But she was also inviting her employees to use her cafés as jumping off points, resting spots or safe spaces––whatever they needed to become the next version of themselves. This perspective of the ebb and flow of her employees changed the way she viewed the transient nature of coffee jobs.

Even Crystal herself moved on from her barista gigs to pursue her dreams. But unlike most, she planted roots in the hospitality industry and grew several successful businesses that deepened the community of Lancaster through food and coffee. Her early coffee jobs were pit stops along the way to her destination. Not to say that Commons is the end all, be all of Crystal’s career. In fact, she’s on a one way path that runs endlessly onward and upward. Each move she made as a business owner led to a slightly larger steppingstone. Without a humble beginning in coffee nearly 20 years ago, she would have never founded Passenger, let alone Commons. As long as she keeps dreaming––and finding cool old buildings to house those dreams––who knows what she’ll come up with next?

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Crystal Weaver