Remember the team from Peace Coffee? You know, the fair trade coffee company from Minnesota with more than a casual commitment to environmental sustainability. Last week we heard about how they were on the forefront of the fair trade coffee industry in the United States. Recently they’ve taken that innovative, pioneering spirit and used green business practices to open up a new coffee shop, the appropriately named Peace Coffee Shop. The progression of building the coffee shop was captured on the Peace Coffee Flickr page, and as you can see, these guys weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
Both this and the previous Peace Coffee interview were conducted wtih Melanee Meegan, Peace Coffee’s marketing and communications wizard. Mel is a certified espresso fanatic. Fueled by Peace Coffee & bananas! Lover of all things monkey, yeti & crafty. She is the longest standing “bean pusher” at Peace Coffee, hitting the ten year mark this year. She’s also really fun to talk to. If you’re ever in the Twin Cities, stop by and say hello.
People had been asking us when we’re going to open a coffee shop for a really long time and we finally decided to take a serious look at the question. We’re approaching 15 years in business and have been looking at what the next years hold for us as a company dedicated to delicious coffee, small coffee farmers, and our community.
After a lot of conversations with our friends in the industry and all sorts of local community leaders & business people, we decided that opening a coffee shop made sense in terms of furthering our mission and extending our stewardship of the bean from the farmer who grew it into the mug of the coffee drinker.
Now when our coffee manger, Keith, travels to Honduras later this month to meet with some potential new farmer partners there, he’ll have been talking to the baristas at the shop the day before, to our roasting team that same morning—we’re able to connect the supply chain every link of the way, and have the conversations about how we can improve cup quality, improve sustainability at every stop.
Why did you choose the location you did for the coffee shop?
A lot of our staff live in the neighborhood and we know it well—lots of Peace Coffee drinkers, not that many coffee shops. The shop’s just a mile from our roastery so when our friend & landlord, Aaron Day of Blue Construction mentioned that he had a spot in this building, it seemed like a perfect fit.
A lot of times neighbors don’t talk to each other, but now I live three blocks from the coffee shop and I’ve probably met a hundred of my neighbors. The day it snowed, a bunch of people skied to the coffee shop. When there was a snow day, a bunch of fathers brought their kids in and we had a bunch of kids coloring on Peace Coffee sheets. We wanted it to be very kid-friendly, it has to be a place where everybody can come.
What kinds of green things did you do when building the shop?
We were really fortunate that our contractor and landlord is LEED accredited so we incorporated a lot of those principles into the remodeling of the existing space. The space was very raw when we started, pretty much just a shell, and we really emphasized reused, natural, and eco-friendly materials in all that we added.
We picked up some of our kitchen equipment on online auctions (and had to resist the temptation to get all kinds of other crazy stuff like Arabian Night costumes and popcorn machines, and plenty of other bizarre stuff), and scavenged materials from all sorts of places. We had a local designer/sculptor help us find all sorts of things that would have been someone else’s trash and turn them into art (our menu board, the benches, and the chandelier).
Otherwise, Craigslist became our best friend. We met a lot of interesting people going out to pick up furniture, and even some of the tile in the floor came from the left over from an aquarium in Iowa. There is a great place called Bauer Brothers in Northeast where we got old café tables and spiffed them up.
For a lot of the new stuff, the tiles and surface materials, we’re really lucky to be just down the street from Natural Built Homes, so we have lots of interesting materials made of recycled glass, linseed oil, paper, etc.
Other than the location, how does the coffee shop affect the surrounding community?
In the first place, we’re really excited to be continuing our growth in our neighborhood and creating more living wage jobs in our city. We pay all our staff, both roastery staff and baristas, a living wage, and provide health insurance and benefits.
As you’ve seen, we have the room here that we’re calling our Brew Lab. We’re going to be using it to host classes, both for our own accounts as well as for coffee professionals in the community at large. There will also be classes for passionate coffee drinkers who don’t work in the industry covering all the topics we engage in from the field to the cup. The room’s also available for community groups to use; we’ve got a book club meeting in there every other month as well as various other business groups. To see what’s coming up, check out the Peace Coffee Shop events page.
How have you marketed the new coffee shop?
In terms of marketing, we have always tried to create a message around really good coffee and having fun. We have a great product; it happens to be fair trade, organic and shade grown, which is great for everybody involved. In a lot of ways, we’re a Minnesotan company at heart: we tend to be pretty modest, we want everybody to get along. We want people to get excited, not intimidated, by amazing coffee. We’re more interested in building a community that’s inquisitive and thoughtful—about how to have better coffee, better community, better livelihoods for the people that grew the product.
How do you use social media to promote the coffee shop in particular?
We’ve used Facebook, Twitter and Spokes, the Peace Coffee online newsletter all to promote the coffee shop. With the coffee shop in particular, Twitter has been really informative. For example, today some one said they went to the coffee shop on Sunday and it was closed. We close at 2:00 and they said they were disappointed and then I was able to have a conversation and let them know that in fact we are going to expand our hours soon. Then they said it was a great place and they couldn’t wait until the hours changed. So it went from someone saying “it’s so lame that you guys are closed” to saying “it’s so great you guys are there.” Those conversations are good and helpful.
What other green things do you have planned for the coffee shop in the near future?
Come spring, once we get rid of all of this snow, we’re looking forward to building some rain gardens around the building. And of course it wouldn’t be Peace Coffee without plenty of bike parking and a location right on a good bike route!