'Sober bar' to open in Windsor, Ont. for recovering addicts

The Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound will serve as a substance-free safe haven for people trying to stay sober operated by two men who have battled addiction themselves.

Owners who have battled addiction themselves are trying to create a safe haven

Co-founder of the Spiritual Soldiers Mike Brown wants the new coffee shop to fill a void for people recovering from addiction who struggle to find social entertainment. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Recovering addicts leaving treatment — surrounded by a world of temptation — will soon have a new "sober bar" in Windsor, Ont. to help fill a gap.

Although it may have high-top stools, a bar and a liquor shelf, the Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound will be substance-free. The two men behind the project have battled addiction themselves, and want this new space to be a safe haven for people trying to stay sober.

"There's so many people who come into recovery and then they come out and they end up going back to the people, places and things because they don't know what to do once they get out of the recovery bubble," said Bianca Oliverio, a 23-year-old who has suffered from addiction.

Watch why this won't be your typical coffee shop:

Co-owner of the new Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound Mike Brown says social entertainment is often missing for people leaving treatment. 0:21
The reality is I didn't want my parents looking into a casket.- Bianca Oliverio

The journey of addiction began with alcohol at a young age for Oliverio. Eventually she hit rock bottom while using opioids and cocaine, which led to being treated in hospital for an overdose.

"Looking at my mom looking at me that way, and just that fear that was on her face, kind of really put a hole in my heart that I really needed to make a change," she said. "The reality is I didn't want my parents looking into a casket."

Co-owner of the Spiritual Soldiers Mike Brown and friend Bianca Oliverio sit inside the new coffee shop before it opens on June 1. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Now, Oliverio has been sober for five months and plans to help with the coffee shop. Since people recovering from addiction have so much in common, she said there will definitely be a "vibe" in the new space.

'Dance on the bar'

Work is underway to put the finishing touches on the Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound located on Erie Street East and Langlois Avenue. Co-owners Mike Brown and James Lucier plan to open the doors on June 1.

"If you want to come in, and you've had four espressos, and you want to dance on the bar, dance on the bar," said co-owner Mike Brown. "We want people to be vulnerable. We're not selling a cup of coffee, we're selling spiritual enlightenment."

The Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound will be a place for people recovering from addiction to come grab a coffee and hang out. 1:12

Brown and Lucier co-founded the Spiritual Soldiers brand last year. It began as a clothing line with a mission: to raise awareness about mental health and addiction issues.

Social entertainment while battling addiction

Being so close to taking that message one step further, and opening a coffee shop, is surreal for Brown. Especially since his life of addiction to alcohol and cocaine began when he was 18. It eventually led to a suicide attempt and an overdose. 

A missing piece of the puzzle for Brown during recovery was social entertainment.

"We want to break those fears that people may need that social lubricant of alcohol, whereas they can come in here and just be themselves," said Brown.

Pot a problem?

Even with the upcoming legalization of marijuana across Canada, Brown isn't concerned his shop will become a 'drug den' or be a place for users to target those on the road to recovery. He's committed to making the atmosphere a safe place, not a "drop-in centre where somebody can come pick up a clean needle."

The long-term goal — if things go well — is to mimic the concept of a 'sober bar' in other communities like London or Toronto.

About the Author

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at