At M&R we have the privilege of working with many different entrepreneurs and organizations across the country to help build their unique vision. The story of Refuge Coffee Co. based out of Clarkston, GA, (located just outside Atlanta) was one we had to share with you on the blog.
Refuge Coffee Co. is a non-profit organization formed with the goal of creating more jobs and providing job training to some of the 2,500 refuges that settle in the Clarkston each year. Since Refuge Coffee Co. is a new non-profit without an endless amount of resources they chose to begin their venture with a single mobile coffee truck. To help raise capital for the conversion, they started a crowd-funding campaign (video from the campaign is below) on PureCharity.com and were able to raise $30,000 for the conversion. Refuge Coffee Co.’s is goal is to ultimately become will be a self-sustaining organization with a coffee shop and brand of coffee supplying revenue in addition to the truck.
Kitti Murray, founder of Refuge Coffee Co., was kind enough to take the time to respond to a few of our questions about the non-profit and plans for the recently built coffee truck. If you want to learn more, visit RefugeCoffeeCo.com.
M&R: Tell us how Refuge Coffee Co. got started?
Kitti: My husband and I moved to Clarkston three years ago, fully aware of the demographic here, but with no plans other than to be good neighbors to the refugees in our neighborhood. It was an intentional move in that sense, but no plans to start a business.
Of the many challenges, the job situation for most resettled refugees was abysmal and weighed on our hearts. (A jobless rate that was half the state average and really bad options at that.) We also noticed right away that while there were many small mono-ethnic shops/restaurants here, there was no multi-ethnic community hub.
I’d heard that 85% of immigrants to our country have never been inside an American home. It seemed to me there was a hospitality gap as well as job/financial one. Yikes – no coffee shop! I think the coffee shop is kind of like an extension of the American living room, so in time, the idea for a coffee shop that would employ and train refugees lodged in my head. But I kept thinking I’d tell younger, smarter people about it and someone would do it! Eventually, the conversations led back to me doing it.
Kitti: I’ve included a flyer about us that tells some of this. CNN called us the “most diverse square mile in the world.” I think it is beautiful here – a mash-up of African/Asian/Arabic cultures. But because it is low-income and under-served, people are not drawn here… and they miss out. Over 60 languages… women walk down the street with baskets on their heads and elderly Nepali women bow and tell you Namaste everywhere you go.
M&R: What was it like setting up a non-profit? Was it easy to get support? Difficult? Explain the process.
Kitti: Well, my husband and I have been in the ministry/non-profit world for years, but nothing prepared me for the challenges or the exhilaration of this whole thing. People have gotten behind us like crazy. But it’s still scary every single day. I think the thing I had going for me (this is my baby, but my husband is the biggest cheerleader) is that I know what I don’t know, which is almost everything. Zero business acumen. So I cashed in dozens of one hour free consultations. I have mentors. We have great attorneys and an even greater board of directors. Plywood People (look them up!) agreed to sponsor us at the beginning. Caleb Goodrum (our Director of Operations) and I found each other through some weird connections… We could NOT do this without him. Safehouse Roasters has been invaluable. A friend in the community offered to raise her own salary so she could head up our job training… So many smart, gifted people and organizations. It’s been great.
M&R: How did you come up with the big idea #1 for a coffee truck?
Kitti: I started out wanting to build a shop (that’s phase two). Our board suggested the truck as a test and a way to start “small” – it’s kind of our minimum viable product that doesn’t feel minimum. Over time, we’ve realized what a great decision that was. We want to tell the Clarkston story to Atlanta and this is such a great way to do that. Our trainees get to experience so many wonderful parts of our city. It makes us nimble as we figure out sustainability. And besides, it looks so great!
M&R: What are your goals for year one of Refuge Coffee Co.?
Kitti: Oh, we have goals! To create a culture that celebrates the refugee community. To become sustainable (i.e. profitable, so we don’t rely on donations). To build so much buy-in in the community and beyond that by the end of one year we are raising funds to build a shop here. To put little, beautiful Clarkston on the map!
M&R: Where can folks go to learn more?
Kitti: Social media tells the up-to-date story, so anyone who wants to know more or wants to share might want to start there. Our website offers a way to donate… we are in need of the final dollars of our start-up capital, so donations are more than welcome these days. Also – we are in Clarkston (4170 East Ponce de Leon) every Wednesday from 7 am till 4 pm… It’s less than a mile outside 285, four miles from Decatur. The best way to learn is to experience, right