By Dedra Cordle
Tim Rush believes in the possibilities of a coffee shop – and he swears he does not hold onto that belief just because he founded one on the city’s westside with his father, John, nearly five years ago.
In his view, when you step through its doors you are opening your mind to a new experience. Sometimes, the only thing you may want to try is a different brew, but other times you might be willing to strike up a conversation with a stranger because you never know when a new and lasting friendship could be made.
He said if he ever begins to doubt his faith in the power of a coffee shop, he will remember the chance encounter he had when two men walked into the Third Way Café earlier this fall.
It was a typical day at the popular community gathering place at 3058 West Broad St. when an accented voice at the counter caught his attention. At the time, he said he didn’t make much of it as the westside has become its own melting pot of cultures throughout the years. However, it was the questions he was asking – some through acting as a translator for his friend – that really sparked his curiosity.
“Essentially, what they were asking me were “coffee people” questions,” said Rush. “They were asking me about pour-overs, they were asking me about natural coffees, they were asking me about the types of processing we use, and they were asking what we do for our espressos.”
Although he was a little taken aback by the line of questioning, he answered all inquiries and made them his version of a pour-over. He said that they were less than impressed by the usual method.
“They told me how bad it was,” he joked.
“No, we did not say that to him,” interjected Oleg Vasilchuk as Rush recounted the story of their first meeting. “We only said it was different from where we were from.”
That response, said Rush, started a three-hour long conversation that made a profound and lasting impact on his life.
Around this time last year, Vasilchuk and Igor Manjul were living in Odessa, Ukraine with their growing families. Vasilchuk worked in the ministerial services, providing support for children living on the streets while Manjul operated a café with his wife, Anastasia, who was an artist and clothing designer. They were happy with their lives, content to watch their children grow up in their beloved homeland. And then the bombs started to go off.
Vasilchuk said he and his wife, Tetiana, and their two children, Abigail and Joshua, were asleep in the early morning hours on Feb. 24, 2022 when the sounds of explosions nearby startled them awake. Knowing that this was the beginning of a Russian-led war against their country but not knowing where the next missile would land, they scrambled to put together enough belongings to take to a safer destination in the region.
At first, Vasilchuk was determined not to leave his country in order to find that safer destination.
“Then I looked at my children,” he said, “and I had the thought that if something would have happened to them, I would not be able to forgive myself for not doing anything when I was able to.”
He said leaving the country to drive to Romania with his family was like experiencing déjà vu.
In the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and there was much uncertainty after Ukraine voted for its independence, Vasilchuk’s father fled to the United States with his family in tow.
“He was an enemy of the state because he was Christian,” Vasilchuk said.
They settled in Columbus where Vasilchuk lived until 2001 when he decided to go back to Ukraine for missionary work. Because he still has family who reside in the area, they were able to provide housing for him and his family when the Russian-led war began.
For his part, Manjul, a pregnant Anastasia, and their young son, Neitan, also sought refuge in the United States. Their path here led them to the Mexico border where they had to wait in long lines for days on end for entry. They too have recently settled in the Columbus area where they are raising their two sons.
Vasilchuk said their families miss their country “very much,” so they often try to find shops around their adoptive town that remind them of home. And that is what led them to Third Way Café that fall day.
Although they did not find a beverage that reminded them of the coffee culture back home – “we have our own distinct culture of coffee,” Vasilchuk explained – they did find a place and a community that was willing to wrap their arms around them as they tried to put the pieces of their lives back together.
“We wanted to do something special for them, something to let them know that we are here for them, that we are thinking of them, and that we are here to support their friends and the people of Ukraine in whatever capacity we can,” said Rush.
That capacity turned out to be offering to hold a charity exhibition featuring the artwork of Anastasia Manjul.
On Dec. 3, Third Way Café hosted an artist’s reception for the opening of the exhibition that will be on display throughout the end of the year. Anastasia has created close to two dozens pieces for the “Unbreakable” exhibition, all of which in some way represent the unbreakable spirit of the people of Ukraine.
In addition to her artwork, Igor Manjul also has a few pieces of his photography on display and there is a pop-up shop from their clothing line in the expanded room.
As a way to give back to their country, the Manjul’s will donate the proceeds from the sale of the artwork to the men and women serving on the frontlines of the war and their families.
As the co-organizer of the event, Vasilchuk said he did not know what to expect when the community was invited to come out to the café for a night of art, conversation and hope with a group of strangers who are still learning to master the English language. He said he could not help but be touched by the response and their willingness to learn about the people of Ukraine.
“Thank you everybody for showing interest in our country,” he told the large crowd of attendees. “Just to be here you are sharing in our pain. This is something that is on our hearts every time we wake up, during the day, and something that we go to sleep with.”
He asked the crowd not to forget about the people of Ukraine as the war wages on and requested that they keep praying for those who are fighting there, for those who live there, for those who have fled, and for the country itself.
He said that one day in the future, when the war is over and the people of Ukraine are free again, he hopes to sit in Igor’s café in Odessa where there will be open seats waiting to be filled by old friends, his new Ohio friends, and maybe someone who he has yet to meet that will make a profound impact on his life. After all, he too believes in the magic of a coffee shop and the endless possibilities that may arise when one walks through its doors.
“Unbreakable” will be on exhibit at the Third Way Café, 3058 W. Broad St., throughout December. The artwork can be viewed during the store’s normal hours of operation from Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.