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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Locally grounded: Coffee roasters are giving back, investing in their community

By Johnny Fulfer For The Spokesman-Review

Spokane native Bobby Enslow started Indaba Coffee in 2009 with the aim of making a difference in the city’s toughest neighborhoods.

“I get pumped at seeing neighborhoods restored,” Enslow said. “I’m definitely an advocate for the underdog and giving people second chances. Seeing people in the margins who are overlooked and giving them an opportunity.”

Enslow now has five locations in Spokane, one of which is a coffee shop and roasting house. Indaba Coffee has gained a reputation for its high-quality coffee and community-centered business model.

“Our core mantra is love people, love coffee,” Enslow said. “So that is embedded into really everything we do, from how we recruit and hire, how we write our company handbook, how we do our training and how we coach and guide people.”

Enslow credits venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki as a major influence on his business philosophy. Entrepreneurs who start new companies with nothing more than the drive for profit, Kawasaki has said, often fail. Rather than setting out to create profit, entrepreneurs should strive to create meaning.

“If your focus is to create meaning in the world,” Enslow said, “the chances are you are going to make money. If your focus is on just making money in the world, the chances are you’re probably going to fail.”

To instill a more socially minded culture in his company and create meaning in the community, Enslow decided to establish long-term partnerships with local charities. “Every bag of coffee provides a meal for someone in need,” he said, “and that’s through our partnership with Second Harvest here locally.”

He also has begun a partnership with Recovery Café Spokane donating coffee to the local recovery community. The café offers free drip coffee and a Latte Hour, giving their members in recovery a free specialty latte and training some to be baristas.

With the rapid growth of coffee stands in Spokane, Enslow recognized the rising demand for baristas and the employment potential of a free barista training program.

Through a partnership with Union Gospel Mission, Enslow aims to create a new barista training program that will equip those who struggle with homelessness and addiction with marketable skills.

“It’s a great organization to work with because they’ll be able to get some classroom training during the week,” he said. “But then they’ll actually be serving on the weekends, so they’ll get some hands-on training during the high-volume situations.”

While Enslow is certainly making strides to help the underdog, he’s not the only entrepreneur who is investing in the community.

Pouring hope

After working at 4 Seasons Coffee for two years, Thomas Hammer had the spark to start something new. Since he opened his first mobile coffee shop at NorthTown Mall in 1993, he began sprinkling new coffee shops throughout the Inland Northwest. From Spokane to Boise, Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasters has 19 locations, with plans for further expansion.

“We take care of our employees, and we try to take care of our customers and the community,” Hammer said. “They’re all what keep us prosperous. I think the idea of being fair, respectful and ethical is critical in everything we do.”

Hammer has created partnerships with more than 18 charities over the past 26 years, ranging from Women Helping Women to Second Harvest. More recently, his company became a major sponsor of the Tree of Sharing, a local nonprofit that collects and distributes gifts to those in the community who are often overlooked.

“This is our fourth year as a corporate sponsor for them,” Hammer said. One issue he has been increasingly concerned about is the rising number of people in Spokane who are struggling with homelessness.

From the view of his corporate headquarters on West Pacific Avenue, Hammer has noticed an increasing number of people living on the streets over the past two years.

According to the 2019 Point-in-Time Count, a federally mandated annual count of homeless people, there are 1,309 individuals in Spokane County who are currently homeless.

“I hope there is emphasis on finding out who the people are,” Hammer said. “What their background is and that they’re not pieced into one group.” There is a misconception, he believes, that all homeless people are hardened criminals.

“I think a lot of businesses see people in front of their business, and they want them gone,” Hammer said. “And it simply displaces them to a new spot in the city.” For him, homelessness is a collective problem that cannot be solved by any one business or government entity.

Everyone in the community, Hammer believes, must work together to engage in the conversation. “Having some compassion and trying to understand the problem,” he said, would be more constructive than just viewing it as a nuisance.

While Hammer and Enslow have engaged with the community at different levels, they both recognize that local businesses need to invest more in people, especially those who are often overlooked.

One of the central challenges for the local business community, Enslow says, is cultural. Companies that are driven purely by the desire to make money reinforce a profit-centered culture that overlooks the long-term mental and financial health of the people in a community.

“I feel like if more businesses and organizations focused on investing in people and people’s lives,” Enslow said, “then our community would be stronger, and we would see less homelessness. We would see less addiction.”

Fueling conservation

Another coffee roaster who supports those struggling with addiction is Roast House Coffee owned by local entrepreneur Deborah Di Bernardo. She also has partnered with Union Gospel Mission and Recovery Café Spokane to serve their members organically grown coffee.

What really drives Di Bernardo and her right-hand woman, Allison Jordan, however, is environmental sustainability. “The Lands Council has been an organization that we’ve been working with for years,” Jordan said. “Reforest Spokane, for instance, is a yearly event that we help with by fueling everyone with coffee.”

They also offer incentives to customers who bring back empty coffee bags to recycle. Because coffee bags are the most visible part of the business, Di Bernardo, who also owns First Avenue Coffee, has begun a new program to support local nonprofits using custom labels for one-pound bags of coffee.

With the help of local artists, Roast House Coffee designed a label for a new program titled Change the World, which includes an image of a woman who intersects with nature, representing the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world.

Nonprofits they partner with purchase the coffee at a discounted rate to help the organizations earn $10 on each pound they sell.

Blending support

Tom Sawyer, the owner of Tom Sawyer Country Coffee, has a similar program creating custom labels for each charity. In addition to partnerships with local nonprofits such as the Spokane Youth Choir, Sawyer is particularly concerned about veterans who are struggling with trauma, addiction and physical disabilities.

To address this issue, Sawyer created a program that gives $3 of each pound of coffee sold to the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity that supports veterans who are physically and mentally wounded.

By supporting wounded veterans, serving free coffee and being an advocate for the environment and the underdog, local coffee roasters like Enslow, Hammer, Di Bernardo and Sawyer are paving the way toward a more community-minded business culture in Spokane.

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