OtherWake Up, Portland: Central City Coffee Addresses Homelessness with Craft Roasts

Central City Coffee links coffee farmers in producing countries to Portlanders working to break the cycle of addiction and poverty.
Central City Coffee links coffee farmers in producing countries to Portlanders working to break the cycle of addiction and poverty.

Portland is a city full of coffee snobs, and proud ones at that. We won’t settle for just any morning cuppa joe—our roasts require craft.

What if we could not only enjoy a craft roast but also help to solve some of our city’s most pressing challenges while we were at it? What if our coffee could not just wake us up literally, but also wake us up to the issues of homelessness, poverty, and addiction that plague our city, while positioning us as part of the solution?

Central City Coffee aims to do just that. Here, they tell us more:

What was the spark that inspired the birth of Central City Coffee? Central City Coffee is a social enterprise of Central City Concern, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit agency serving single adults and families in the Portland metro area who are impacted by homelessness, poverty and addictions.

Central City Concern has a long standing interest in social entrepreneurship and in the past has operated a handyman service as well as a second-hand home furnishing store. Currently, Central City Concern operates Central City Bed, a bed bug resistant furniture line intended for affordable housing developments and shelters.

In 2012, the success of other social enterprises led Central City Concern to seek a new endeavor that would help build Central City Concern’s visibility in the broader Portland community while also creating more direct opportunities to hire our clients. As a result, Central City Concern teamed up with Portland State University’s Social Innovation Incubator and the idea for a coffee roasting company was born.

Because coffee is often shared amongst the recovery community at Central City Concern, the idea was well received. Additionally, coffee’s production cycle provides employment opportunities in sourcing, roasting, packaging and distribution. Over the past two years, the initial spark has evolved into what Central City Coffee is today: a nonprofit coffee company that sources and roasts high quality, specialty coffees in order to teach transferable job skills to people affected by homelessness and addiction.

What problem does Central City Coffee solve? Through engaging in social enterprise activities, Central City Concern aims to create self-sufficiency in our employment programs as well as for our formerly homeless clients. Central City Concern’s employment services have been subject to budget reductions in recent years and the revenue generated from selling Central City Coffee allows us to fill funding gaps in our supported employment services that create valuable employment and training opportunities for our clients throughout Central City Concern.

How are you addressing this problem in a new and unique way? What is unique about this approach to funding is that the funds are coming from within our organization. Rather than relying solely on grants and donations, Central City Concern is developing creative and successful social enterprises to function as steady internal sources of revenue.

In a town teeming with quality coffee options, what sets Central City Coffee apart? What sets Central City Coffee apart from other coffee companies in Portland is our mission and our nonprofit status – 100% of Central City Coffee’s profits directly support the clients of Central City Concern. We source and roast high quality, sustainably harvested coffees and we are actively advancing the services offered at Central City Concern by doing so. Ultimately, when someone purchases Central City Coffee, they are not only going to drink a great tasting cup of coffee, but they are also investing in social programs that directly benefit the greater Portland community.

Do you have any success stories to share?  We are in our first year of business, so simply getting our coffee on specialty grocery store shelves has been a big success for us. We are now in Whole Foods, New Seasons, Food Front Co-op, Green Zebra Grocery and Chuck’s Produce and Street Market. The willingness of these businesses to purchase our coffee has been an integral part of our ability to grow. We have also partnered with a local office coffee supplier, Percasso Coffee and Bottled Water Service, allowing us to get our coffee into local businesses.

Our greatest success, however, has been developing this business side by side with Central City Concern and being able to hire former clients as employees.

Imagine Central City Coffee surpasses all your expectations for success. What does that look like?  We would love to open a cafe in Portland. A cafe would allow us to employ more clients of Central City Concern, thus expanding the scope of our job training programs and increasing the impact we have on the community. Additionally, having our own cafe would give us freedom to expand and experiment with the coffees that we offer. We are as committed to quality in sourcing and roasting our coffee as we are to helping people achieve self-sufficiency, so having a single space to showcase both our coffee and our mission is something we look forward to.

How can entrepreneurs in Portland support your efforts? The best way for entrepreneurs in Portland to support our business is by purchasing our coffee for their offices, by buying a bag of coffee at the grocery store, or by sharing our story and our mission.

What’s your favorite thing about working and doing business in Portland? Central City Concern has been in Portland since 1979, so we are deeply invested in this community and Central City Coffee allows us to connect with people in a new way. We are constantly engaging with people at grocery stores and events and their willingness to support us is a big part of what makes Portland a great place to pursue a social mission-oriented business. Our experience has been that Portlanders get pretty excited when they find out that their love of coffee can help them support their city in a meaningful way.

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