story and photos by Dana Cooper
Two things are immediately apparent upon meeting Adam Phillips, the general manager of the original Café Eclectic at 603 North McLean: First, he has an energy that radiates joy. Second, and very much related, he gives world-class hugs.
I met Phillips on a Sunday afternoon, just past closing time at the restaurant. He rushed in, eager to sit down and talk. What was clear from our short time together is that his upbeat personality infuses everything he does, but it transcends mere happiness. “People say, ‘Why are you always so happy?’ I have to go back and correct them. I’m not always happy; I’m always positive. You don’t have to be happy with your situation, but you can still put on a brave face.”
The 36-year-old Phillips has relied on that bravery to reach a place in his life where positivity is even realistic. A recovering drug addict, he has a long list of people who have inspired him to become the man he is today. Phillips credits his mother, siblings, and a former colleague, one who also struggled with addiction, for his journey toward lasting sobriety. “He would come in here sober, and I saw the physical change in him. He was able to smile and deal with life on life’s terms. I wanted that so bad.”
Another person he credits with not only personal growth, but also professional success is Café Eclectic’s owner, Cathy Boulden. Boulden’s vision, Phillips said, is to create an atmosphere of general supportiveness for all of her employees, as well as to foster good will in the community. “She welcomes anyone from any walk of life,” Phillips said. “In my instance, I was a drug addict, but she welcomed me with open arms. Some people just need a second chance, and that’s what this place is all about.”
Phillips, general manager of Café Eclectic on North McLean, helps to carry out the café owner’s vision of supportiveness for employees and goodwill in the community. He considers his coming out story a good one. His family accepted the news with a reaffirmation of their love and support of him.
Boulden, who was sitting in a nearby office, overheard our conversation. She was so overcome with emotion for her café manager of seven years that she came out during the interview to tell him how much she loved him. Phillips invited her to join us and go on the record for the article. Rather than take the focus off Phillips and his story, Boulden smiled and gently shook her head. “He’s my heart,” Boulden said, wrapping her arms around Phillips’ shoulders. “If you have him, you have me.”
Phillips’ coming out story is also one that is filled with love. He was raised in the Seventh- Day Adventist faith, where homosexuality is seen as a sin. When Phillips first came out to his mother at age 18, however, she was instantly supportive. “She said, ‘You’re my son. I love you no matter who you are.’ It was the most exhilarating, most accepting experience ever,” Phillips said.
Phillips’ father, a Vietnam veteran and church deacon, was also quick to offer his support. “When I came out to my dad, it was harder. I told him that I was a drug addict first, and then that I was also gay. And he said, ‘Well, son, we’re going to work on what we can fix, which is the addiction. The homosexuality? That’s just a part of your life.’ ”
What makes up the other parts of Phillips’ life? “Oh, I’m a nerd,” he said, laughing. He enjoys anime and video games – Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is his current favorite – and recently attended Anime Blues Con, a multi-day convention centered on comics and anime, with
his partner, Marquael Antoin Smith.
While talking about Smith’s first-place finish in the convention’s Pokémon-naming contest, Phillips’ brilliant smile took on an extra gleam. “We met at exactly the right time,” he said, explaining that he may not have been able to accept the stability his relationship with Smith offered until he had attained sobriety and clarity. “I feel like I’ve paid my dues, and I’m ready. I want it now. Every day I wake up with him is amazing.”
Taking life one day at a time seems to have worked well for Phillips, who has now been sober for nearly three years. Today, he seeks to embrace and empower the people in his life who need it most. Asked how to best support loved ones struggling with life’s slings and arrows, Phillips said, “Just listen to people. And take the time out of your day to check up on them and say hi.”
For those in the throes of addiction or lacking support in being out and proud, Phillips’ advice is simple: power through. “Even if you have a negative experience, don’t let that stop you from being who you were meant to be.”