Posts in Business Model
Sourcing and Why It Matters

Brief Update

Where to begin? We received our first order of beans from the Hingakawa Women's Association (more on them later), Jon has been up to his eyeballs in beans roasting over the past two weeks, I've been in discussions with some incredible potential partners, we purchased a new roaster, started with a great wholesale client, sleep has been harder to come by, and we're loving it! The feeling of controlled chaos I mentioned in this post has become both more controlled and chaotic at the same time. It's kind of like raising a kid or pet. You learn how to handle what they throw at you as it happens. But as soon as you figure one thing out they pull something new out of left field to throw your way. It definitely keeps us on our toes.

Community In Coffee

As I have mentioned in other posts, Mark Smesrud and Purple Door Coffee taught me how not to compromise the standards of a high quality product while still cultivating true, lasting growth in their employees. Parallel to that Scott Byington, the owner of Queen City Collective Coffee, has been instrumental in opening my eyes to the beauty and necessity of creating community through coffee every step of the way from sourcing to storefront. When I say community I mean relationships that are ongoing and real. I'm not talking about slapping a fair trade sticker on a bag then making one trip to a farm and taking some pictures to post online or put in your store. Scott has been integrally involved with farms around the world helping get their products to roasters in the US while also assisting them to improve their products and increase their own profits. He also knows that to truly help farmers and their communities we cannot just helicopter in at our leisure with good intentions. We have to listen: listen to who they are, the roads they've walked in life, what they need for their farms, what they need for their children and communities, and listen to what is most effective for us to do in their eyes, not our own. What works well here may be ineffective, or actually destructive, somewhere else. Because as much as we think we know, we don't know much.

Hingakawa

Scott has spent a considerable amount of time in Rwanda where the Hingakawa ("let's grow coffee") Women's Association is located. Oh Hingakawa, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Seriously, they are incredible. Scott has a close relationship with the person instrumental in building the farming network there to be what it is today. Many of the women who work with this farm, and another smaller one called Dakundakawa ("we love coffee"), lost loved ones and family members during the Rwandan genocide. Hingakawa has been incredibly effective at providing restoration and sustenance for these women and their children. Not only does it provide work and income, there is also a system in place that allows the women to cultivate the land around the farms to produce more income for their communities to use at their discretion for essential needs. As amazing and impactful as this is, the amount of revenue generated by coffee only goes so far. We're working to build a relationship with these ladies that best benefits them both as individuals and collectively in their communities. I'll write more on this as it develops and we'll have their beans available in our online store within the next couple weeks. Can't wait for you all to try them!

Learn More

These are a couple great reads from The Perfect Daily Grind on sourcing methods that explain what relational, direct trade, fair trade, and actually are.     

Micro Roaster? Here's What Producers Want You To Know.    

How Roasters Can Build Good Relationships With Farmers

This one is written by Torch Coffee and provides more info on Hingakawa.

The Story of Hingakawa Women's Coffee

 

 

 

Update and Reflection

Quick Year-end Reflection

I understand now why people always write about things after they happen. It's far easier, less painful, and allows you to shape and control the narrative. When a house is completed you can describe in detail the parts of it you like the most while leaving out the parts you don't. You can talk about how amazing the kitchen and living room are but not say anything about those pieces of unfinished trim or how the master bathroom was actually a total disaster. When you're standing in a house with stud walls and no roof yet everybody can see through it and there's no hiding anything.

Thankfully we have made a lot of progress in building Bridge City. We're on our way to growing the wholesale portion of our business more than we anticipated for the first year of business, our sourcing model has worked out well, mobile events have been great, and people have responded better than we could have asked in regards to the quality and flavor of our coffee. But we're standing in the middle of an unfinished house and it's clear as day that we haven't accomplished our goal of opening a shop yet. One of my personal goals for 2017 was not to allow one negative thing to overshadow a handful of positive accomplishments. So despite not opening our doors to the public yet, I am incredibly grateful for the progress we have made.

Shop Update

In this post I talked about a potential partnership with another organization that would allow us to open a shop. Our relationship with that group is still in a great spot. However, it became clear to us both that it will be better for them to open the coffee portion of the shop fully under their own branding. We're looking forward to seeing what they do and being a part of it behind the scenes.

Jon and I have been back and forth on how and when to open our shop. We've juggled putting off the shop for a couple years to raise the capital on our own through wholesale, having purely financial investors, taking out loans, selling our kidneys, crowd funding (which is worse than selling our kidneys), and pretty much any other means of obtaining the capital we need.   Roasting and wholesale will always be a part of our business but we don't want to spend the next couple years only doing that, crowd funding doesn't seem like the best route, and we're not going to take out a massive loan to put the business significantly in the red. However, I recently had a great conversation with a couple well accomplished, smart business-minded guys over the weekend and they helped me land on a solid idea for obtaining the capital we need. I'm not going to write about now, but if it works, we may begin building our actual shop mid to late 2018.

The Bridge City Model

Through the ups and downs of our first 9 months as a business our primary goal still remains to create an avenue that allows us to hire and train employees in a setting that stretches and grows them while equipping them with a better understanding of who they are as unique individuals. Amidst a boatload of uncertainty, that goal has been cemented in our minds. It's helped clarify our vision to inspire and equip people to love and care for those around them by first being able to take care of themselves. As it relates to the old fishing adage, we don't want to stop at teaching someone how to fish. When our employees move on from Bridge City we want them to leave with plenty of fish of their own, the knowledge of how to fish, and most importantly the ability to teach others to fish.

 

 

What Is Bridge City Coffee?

Quick important detail on where we currently are while this is being written – It’s the beginning of April now and my wife and I plan to move from Denver, CO to Greenville, SC sometime around June. Jon is going to do our first pop-up cart at a First Friday event at Textile Hall this week. It's a good bit sooner than we anticipated to actually launch, but we're not complaining! Just have to get ready for it.

Some Background

I love good coffee.  I enjoy the way it tastes and how it wakes me up in the morning. I love how therapeutic it is to make. I love how it makes me think about things in a healthy big picture perspective with the journey each single coffee bean goes through to end up producing my morning fuel (more about this in an upcoming post). In addition to all that, I love the community, massive life or business decisions, and simple relaxation that all occur within the walls of coffee shops.

Through a quick Google search I found 50 independently owned coffee shops just around the downtown Denver area. That number doesn’t include any big chains like Starbucks and Dazbog or places like Dunkin Donuts that serve coffee drinks. So throw in the big chains and you’re easily close to 200 shops. That’s a saturated market to say the least. Out of all those shops there is one like Purple Door Coffee and simply put, Purple Door is one of the biggest reasons I want to create Bridge City Coffee.

I heard Mark, the executive director, speak at a 1 Million Cups meeting. I was fascinated by what they were doing and approached Mark following the meeting. After a lot of conversations and meetings with Mark I’ve been on the board of Purple Door for 6 months now. I still have a hard time not being overwhelmed when I go to the coffee shop or roaster and see the employees doing their jobs. There is a truth that hits me like a ton of bricks every time - I am witnessing each individual employee having their lives renewed while they are gaining applicable life skills and simultaneously learning about their worth and dignity as individuals. It’s not just a job, it’s the restoration of people’s lives. That’s why Jon and I want to build with Bridge City Coffee.

Mission and Structure of Bridge City Coffee

Two of the main differences between Purple Door and Bridge City will be the target demographic of employees and how the business will be structured. Purple Door was born out of Dry Bones, an NP that does amazing relief work for Denver’s homeless youth. They wanted something further down the scale from relief work more into rehabilitation and development, hence where Purple Door was conceived.  At Bridge City our goal is to catch people and equip them to succeed before they end up in need of serious relief or deep rehabilitation.

The way Bridge City will be structured is similar to a for-profit B-Corp (Benefit Corporation). We’re still working on honing in the exact percentages, but a percentage of our net profits will be reinvested back into the employee’s communities, some partner organizations, and the farming communities we source our beans from. We’ll call it the community fund. Of the community fund, Jon and I will work with the employees to help them reinvest 50% of the community fund directly back into the communities they are from. 35% will go towards partner organizations around the Greenville area, and 15% will go toward the farming coops and communities we work with.  One of the main drivers behind forming as a for-profit entity is to empower the employees with the knowledge that they are earning their own wages and keeping the business afloat through their hard work.

We'll write about the mission, goals, and unique factors of Bridge City in later posts. Part of the beauty of this blog (hopefully) is the dynamic nature of it all during the construction of the company. We may plan for one thing only to learn that it won't work and we have to pivot. Again, that's the terrifying and unique nature of writing something in the thick of it all. So keep following us, we'll make it worth it!