By Kathryn White
“I was sure right away,” Malinda Medina-Johnson said. “I liked the whole frame of spiritual hospitality. I liked the atmosphere. I liked how they greeted people.”
Medina-Johnson knew she’d belong at Prodigy Coffeehouse because belonging is, well, their business.
“Spiritual hospitality is welcoming with open arms, without judgment,” Medina-Johnson said. “Anyone could walk through the doors, you’re not going to be judged, from your race from your class, we’re gonna treat you as human.”
Medina-Johnson started at Prodigy in 2020 and is now a manager-in-training. Through Prodigy, she’s obtained a number of certifications, including one from the DU Frontline Manager Leadership Program.
At the Prodigy Coffeehouse in Globeville, and at their other location on Colorado Boulevard, Medina-Johnson has tackled everything from daily operations and staffing to inventory and customer problem solving.
In her work now, Medina-Johnson focuses on training new apprentices.
Prodigy’s paid apprenticeships guide young people from northeast Denver through a 12-18 month series of levels and certifications that incorporate the technical aspects of producing high-quality coffee drinks, as well as workflow skills for keeping the operation stocked and running smoothly throughout a shift.
Painted on the coffeehouse wall is a word, followed by its definition. Prodigy: A person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities.
Coffee making at Prodigy is rivaled, even overshadowed, by the program’s other components: developing leadership mindsets, learning that becomes deep enough to teach to others, and a healing and supportive culture that, in the words of its mission, creates “a new generation of thriving, healthy, community leaders who have activated their inherent greatness.”
Medina-Johnson learned about Prodigy from a Denver Kids mentor while she was wrapping up high school at GALS Denver.
Deago Martinez found out about Prodigy through a friend. He joined when the Globeville location opened last year. He lives in Berkeley and was looking for a job after he graduated from Bruce Randolph High School. His sister works at Prodigy now too.
“When I first started here,” Martinez said, “I was very quiet, I wouldn’t really talk to nobody but, over time, I’ve really grown.”
The concept of spiritual hospitality was a draw for Martinez too.
“We all get treated the same,” he said. “Everybody has a smile. Everybody has a good vibe.”
Martinez pointed out that he could obtain a barista certification that would allow him to work in a coffee-roasting operation or in places around the world.
His favorite thing about Prodigy?
“The diversity. Whether it’s the apprentices or customers. There’s different ethnicities, different types of styles. It’s cool to see people interact with each other,” Martinez said.
Rafael Marco learned about Prodigy a year ago from his cousin, who said he was going to look into a job at the new coffee shop opening down the street from where he lives in Globeville. Marco went to the grand opening and took it from there. He’s finished the first part of the Prodigy apprenticeship program and is continuing.
Prodigy feels like a new beginning for the area, Marco said.
“Globeville was known for being a bad area that no one really wanted to go to,” he said. “But since they opened the coffee shop, it’s bringing the community together. We have a place that we could go to, and just like, have a place that could be accepting.”
Apprentices have learned also that, like any business with customers, they’ll be faced with people who are having a bad day. Who aren’t nice.
“I’m gonna still do my job,” Marco said. “You don’t know if they’re going through something in their life. I’m still going to be nice, I’m still going to be kind, because that’s what we represent here.”
The Globeville location has a quieter feel than Prodigy’s first location that opened seven years ago on East 40th Avenue near Colorado Boulevard. Apprentices work shifts in both locations, learning the fast-paced setting catering to morning commuters, including a drive-thru, and the more relaxed environment in Globeville, tucked into the corner of East 45th Avenue and Broadway, near Garden Place Elementary School.
Within months of opening last year, neighborhood groups started using the coffeehouse to gather, sometimes in its “learning lab,” a room that seats up to 20 people.
Prodigy’s Director of Learning Brady Grant said the room is free to reserve during business hours, 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and that people can submit a request through firstname.lastname@example.org. The same email can be used to inquire about after-hours rentals.
If you haven’t visited yet, stop by and ask for the “Rafael Special.” Marco calls it a Cinnamon Delight Latte. Between Medina-Johnson, Martinez and Marco, they say it tastes something like Captain Crunch cereal. Or a Snickers bar. Or a cinnamon roll.
Delicious coffee drinks aside, Martinez welcomes the community to “come in to get to know the people.”
“There’s more to the business than coffee,” he said. “You’ll see self-development and self-growth. Come into the shop and see how apprentices communicate with each other.
“Every day,” he added, “people are learning and growing.”