Born in Ethiopia and sent to an orphanage at age 3, Parker Ritzmann was eventually adopted by a young couple in Kentucky.
The transition proved painful for him.
“I couldn’t speak English,” he said. “And my culture was stripped away from me.”
As he grew, the family adopted more children and Ritzmann struggled to find his place.
“There was constant conflict – I didn’t feel like I belonged,” he said.
After eight years, his adoptive parents sent him to a boarding school in Missouri. When he finished his year there, he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to return home.
His voice quieted as he recalled the abandonment he felt.
“I was so depressed.”
The boarding school found a place for him at Hutton Settlement in Spokane and he enrolled at West Valley High School.
“When I got to Hutton I had a lot of hurt, anger, sadness and resentment,” Ritzmann recalled. “I felt like I didn’t have any family.”
But when surrounded by kindness, accountability, and structure, coupled with therapy – the teen’s emotional barriers began to crumble.
“I started to learn what family really means,” he said. “Slowly, I felt like I belonged.”
That security allowed him to thrive at West Valley.
“Parker showed a tremendous amount of growth,” said teacher Cheryl Perry. “He developed into a real leader. He’s a friend to everyone.”
Ritzmann discovered his entrepreneurial passion – a drive that even COVID-19 didn’t dampen.
“We couldn’t leave the campus for four months during COVID,” Ritzmann said. “I started researching espresso. I heard people saying ‘I miss my coffee. I miss Starbucks!’ “
He decided to create an in-house coffee stand and pitched his idea to his house parent. Ritzmann asked for a $300 loan to purchase an espresso machine. Then he asked for an additional $50 to purchase coffee beans and syrups.
“I told him I’d pay him within a week and if I didn’t he could charge me interest,” Ritzmann recalled. “I made $800 in the first week!’
He set up shop in the administration building and named his place “Oasis Espresso.”
“It was so cool!” he said. “People were kinda sad, but when they came for coffee it was an escape – a happy part of their day.”
The Hutton staff realized the coffee venture had even bigger potential.
“David Milliken said they’d always wanted to start a coffee roasting business at Hutton and asked me if I was interested in applying for a grant,” Ritzmann said.
As a West Valley student in the Advanced Marketing Course and a member of DECA, a nonprofit organization promoting student leadership and entrepreneurship, Ritzmann participated in a career connections project through the school’s Career and Technical Education program.
“He received a grant for $29,000 which funded the purchase of a Diedrich coffee roaster,” Perry said. “Parker wrote a business plan for a coffee roasting wholesale business which placed first at our DECA Area competition. His business model includes socially responsible marketing that gives back to the community and plans for future expansion into retail coffee houses.”
Last year, the Hutton staff along with Ritzmann and two other Hutton residents, launched HOPE (Hutton Opportunities for Professional Exploration) Neighborhood Roasters – a professional, student-led coffee roasting enterprise.
“Parker learned to navigate the complexity of getting the best of the crop from coffee importers and how to create and implement a coffee profile,” Perry said.
At Hutton, HOPE teaches students not only how to start their own business, but also about cultural awareness.
“When I found out we were getting coffee from Ethiopia it tied me back to my cultural roots,” Ritzmann said.
He learned the art and science of coffee roasting from a local coffee roasting legend – Steve Diedrich, founder of Diedrich Roasters in Ponderay, Idaho, who heard about the Hutton program and visited the campus. He loved what he discovered.
“Steve came out every Sunday for five months and coached us on how to roast coffee,” Ritzmann said. “Steve taught us everything coffee.”
In July, they began selling their product by subscription and at local events in Millwood. All profits go to the Hutton Settlement Children’s Home and are used to fund educational opportunities for the kids.
Ritzmann is delighted.
“It’s brought me such joy,” he said. “I love coffee! It’s become my life!”
His worth ethic and entrepreneurial skills haven’t gone unrecognized. The teen received a full-ride scholarship to the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.
Of his often painful journey to success, Ritzmann is matter-of-fact.
“I’ve been through a lot. It builds character,” he said. “Hutton has empowered me to take charge of my story – to own my narrative.”
While the coffee business consumed a lot of hours, he still made time to launch a philosophy club at West Valley and to help a friend create a multicultural club.
“Parker is everywhere in the building helping others. He knows he wants to give back either through a charitable organization or a business he owns,” Perry said. “He’s someone who has risen beyond the challenges he’s had in life and set himself up for success in the future.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.