GREAT FALLS — A little more than one year ago, Jake Berger and his wife put a courageous label on their Fort Benton coffee house, Moon Eyes Coffee Roasters.
"We asked ourselves if we were going to fly that progressive flag," explained Berger.
The Chinook native and now Fort Benton resident took a pledge to equity, diversity, and inclusion in the small community of 2,600 residents.
To Berger and his wife, Maren, this wasn't a "label" - it was the right thing to do.
Moon Eyes Coffee Roasters is about the size of a large living room, nestled in the Courtyard on the south end of Front Street in downtown Fort Benton. The inspiration for his coffee shop was his knowledge and passion for roasting coffee, and brewing his own blends.
In a conversation, the two knew they would identify themselves and their business as "allies." Not the Allied Powers of World War II, but fighting an uphill battle for acceptance in rural America. The two were inspired by cafes across the United States — while understanding the backlash that could come from it.
"There are corners of this space that people aren't necessarily so comfortable with the idea."
Berger is a member of an alliance group in Chouteau County, tacking an LGBTQIA+ flag on the wall of his coffee shop - visible, but not distracting from the decor of the business.
"I put a flag on my wall and that small amount has been appreciated... but, I still feel like I've done the bare minimum, and I want to do more," he expressed.
Lo and behold, this influence traveled 40 miles southwest to Great Falls, to Luna Coffee.
Matt Pipinich is the new owner of the coffee and tea house on Fifth Avenue North and Central Avenue. The Bergers have been an inspiration to the future plans for Luna Coffee.
"The one thing we're all coming in for is the coffee. That's our common ground. If we can use that to build more relationships in our community, that's great," explained Pipinich.
Pipinich has a vision of remodeling his downtown Great Falls location with the addition of an "inclusive" space.
"I could have attorneys, judges, doctors, lawyers here at the same time as our unhoused population, or people who are stay-at-home moms. It doesn't have to be a job title, but different economic statuses. This isn't just a shop for that 'kind' of person. It's a shop for everybody."
Berger added, "I am so excited for Matt and his vision. He has a great vision for what he's working on with Luna and I hope we will be able to collaborate together."
Collaboration is the foundation for Pipinich's vision. A safe space not limited to the LGBTQIA+ community but to anyone looking to feel comfortable, make friends, and attend non-judgmental events.
The new space would provide artists the opportunity to collaborate together and design the room on a tentative three-month rotation. Art, design, and coffee, under one roof to serve as a sanctuary for whoever you may identify as.
Pipinich is asking for the public's support on this adventure. He started a GoFundMe page. It's a decision he pondered for a long time, but the support has been overwhelming. His perspective in asking for the community's help is to invest in his business which wants to provide a safe environment for all.
"We host events here numerous times a month. I just want you to come down and see what it's all about, I could care less if you bought a coffee. I want to see you here and utilizing the space."
He's asking for your investment, an investment in a vision of a space he wishes he could've visited as a young boy growing up in Great Falls.
"I left like many other people leave because you feel like it's Great Falls, that you can't do what you want to do here. What I've learned over the years is if you can go out and get the education or the experience — then come back, you can help build it and stop that cycle of, 'I have to leave to do what I want to do.'"
Pipinich has applied for a number of grants through the business and won't hear back until Spring 2024. A link to the GoFundMe can be found here, Luna Coffee Bar.
Moon Eyes Coffee Roasters is located in The Courtyard in Fort Benton at 1714 Front Street. Click here to visit the website.
Luna Coffee Bar (website) is at 9 Fifth Street North in Downtown Great Falls.