The smell of coffee wafts across the picturesque Hutton Settlement grounds from a small brick building tucked behind the campus cottages.
Inside, three teenagers at the children’s home have been working for months to perfectly roast three different types of coffee that they’ll begin selling this month as HOPE Neighborhood Roasters.
Hutton Settlement is a children’s home founded in 1919 by Levi Hutton, who was himself an orphan. Today the home is an alternative to foster care, where children live in one of four cottages on the property with house parents while attending schools in the West Valley School District.
HOPE, which stands for Hutton Opportunities for Professional Exploration, all started with a game of cornhole.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker Ritzmann, 18, decided to start a coffee stand on the Hutton Settlement campus to help pass the time in quarantine.
Not long after Ritzmann’s makeshift coffee stand began keeping staff members at Hutton caffeinated, there was a cornhole tournament on campus, with the prize of a dinner out with Executive Director Chud Wendle and Campus Director David Milliken.
Ritzmann won the tournament. At that dinner, Milliken, a home roaster himself, shared his idea to get a commercial coffee roaster at Hutton and create a program that taught students not only how to start their own business but cultural awareness.
Ritzmann loved the idea, and Wendle told them to make it happen. Just three days later, they had a grant application in to the Hagan Foundation for the seed money. That grant, along with help from local Millwood partners Bottles and the Concordia Masons, got the project off the ground.
Ritzmann, along with 17-year-olds Roxy Fredericksen and Kale Green , spearheaded the project. They went to the Small Business Administration website to learn how to create a business plan and after a handful of drafts, Milliken thought they were ready to roast some coffee.
They bought a few bags of coffee and began roasting test batches. That’s when Steve Diedrich, founder of Diedrich Roasters, stumbled upon the project. Diedrich Roasters manufactures a variety of coffee roasting equipment.
Diedrich is now retired, but he had asked the office if they could give him a list of roasters in Spokane to see what the current landscape was, he said.
They told him about the Hutton program, then a few weeks later between meetings he drove past Hutton’s historic campus. He decided to drive onto the campus.
There he met Milliken, who talked not only about the neighborhood roasters project but about Hutton’s overall goals.
“I was just totally jazzed about what they do,” Diedrich said.
Diedrich offered to visit Hutton Settlement weekly to train the students on “all things coffee,” Milliken said.
“We’re very lucky to have someone that has 40 years of coffee experience,” Milliken said. “These kids are really getting state-of-the-art education from someone who knows it more than most.”
When Diedrich met the three students working on the project he was impressed not only by their enthusiasm but “willingness to learn.”
“I’m working with them and I was just really pleased that out of the literally thousands of people I taught to roast … these kids were picking up things far quicker than any of the adults I’ve been with,” he said.
In a renovated annex, historically used for fruit drying, the three teens got to work learning their way around their new commercial roaster.
Fredericksen was intrigued by the project because she felt like she wasn’t learning enough doing online school.
“We learned anything from how to grow it, how to roast it, how it gets processed and fermented,” Fredericksen said. “I think the most interesting thing that I’ve learned is learning about where different coffees were grown makes such a big impact on the flavor of how it’s roasted.”
They even learned about international trade working directly with importers. The group had hoped to purchase beans from Ethiopia but due to delays caused by the cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal in March , they had to pivot to a different option, Milliken said.
For Green, the experience has sparked a bit of a travel bug. He hopes to see the world in the future and maybe put his new business skills to use.
Ritzmann wants to make a career out of coffee.
“I want to study coffee more,” he said. “Go to Italy and study espresso over there, and even Costa Rica and study how coffee beans grow.”
The dream to make coffee a career is supported by Dietrich, who has spent time teaching Ritzmann about the industry as a whole.
“It’s been fun to go the extra mile with him beyond just the roasting,” he said.
After months of roasting and learning about how to process coffee, the three HOPE Neighborhood Roasters founders settled on three different coffee types.
The lightest roast, the Costa Rica, is more acidic than most coffees and has fruit notes, Fredericksen explained. Their medium roast is a Sumatra, which is heavy bodied, creamy and buttery. The dark roast is a Guatemala, which is full-bodied with chocolate and nut notes while remaining slightly acidic, Fredericksen said.
The students each make an hourly wage from the project. The rest of the proceeds go to Hutton’s Sustainability and Leadership United Through Education (SALUTE) programs. SALUTE teaches land stewardship and sustainability using the National Geographic learning framework.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing programs here that are generating their own income,” Milliken said. “It really empowers our kids to get out and form new ventures.”
With the three roasts ready to go, the group launched a six-month subscription plan earlier this summer. Subscribers pay $350 and will receive four 12 oz. packages of freshly roasted coffee each month, which can be shipped or picked up from the Hutton campus in Millwood. For the first pickup day on Sunday, subscribers will be able to stop by from 1-5 p.m for a coffee tasting.
They also plan to sell their beans at the Millwood Farmers Market every other week, Ritzmann said.
As the open house approaches, Milliken said he feels proud of the students who have put their heart and soul into the project.
“These three kind of embody that curiosity about life,” he said. “They really are empowered, and they take responsibility not only for themselves, but really the campus.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the location of the Hutton Settlement campus which is located just outside of Millwood.
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