Tacoma’s new cafe will employ formerly incarcerated women
A Tacoma-based coffee roaster set out to prove that our daily routine can effect positive change in the city it serves by uplifting the people who need a boost the most.
Civic Roasters has been supplying its coffee, roasted in a shared facility in Auburn, online and at pop-up markets since 2018. Most recently, Café Liftbridge on the courthouse square and ALMA have included the brand in their rotating ranges. Later this year, the company — with financial help, the founders hope, from the community — will open a cafe and roastery at 1601 6th Ave. at Hilltop.
Social entrepreneurship is at the heart of Civic, which donates a portion of bag sales to local nonprofits and community groups. Proceeds so far have benefited organizations such as United Way of Pierce County, Northwest Immigrant Rights Projectthe fifties Black Prisoner Caucus and Community crossingswhich engages local youth facing criminal convictions to reconnect them with their communities.
In retail, Civic will be able to achieve an important goal that goes beyond the beauty of a well-brewed cup: to train and employ formerly incarcerated women.
“Our mission is this: we seek to cultivate healthy neighborhoods by strengthening communities,” said founder Benita Ki, who left her nonprofit career to focus full-time on Civic. “We seek to invite people to think about their everyday product and know that it does good in the city.”
Friends Kyle and Alicia Bradshaw joined Ki as co-owners last year.
The proportion of women in US prisons has increased dramatically over the past three decades, from about 10% in 1983 to 25% in 2017, according to a Vera Institute of Justice report. In Washington state, about 400 women were admitted to jails or prisons each year in the early 1970s, up from more than 3,000 in the mid-2010s.
During their first year after release, Women in King County said getting a job was one of their biggest challenges in a 2019 study from Seattle University’s Center for Crime and Justice Research.
BECOME A TACOMA CAFÉ
After graduating from the University of Puget Sound, Ki worked for a faith leadership program at Pacific Lutheran University and later ran a health clinic in Hilltop. She started talking with friends about starting something with them.
“What would it be like to reimagine the way we think about poverty reduction? she recalled in an interview with The News Tribune. “Civic was born out of an idea to use business, to use social entrepreneurship, to do something different.”
Having a daily connection point open to the public was also important. Puyallup’s Farm 12, the restaurant and event venue linked to Step by Step, a nonprofit that supports at-risk women and mothers, is a local example of a similar approach.
They landed on coffee precisely because of its universality. It is, after all, the most popular drink in the world. From a business perspective, Ki said, it also offers low overhead. She and her two co-founders had all worked in cafes at one time or another and, understandably, loved drinking them.
Like fellow Tacoma coffee roasters (and soon-to-be neighbors) Manifesto, Bluebeard, and Valhalla, Civic sources its beans through cooperatives that ensure fair labor practices, decent wages, and environmental safety. Packaged in modest brown paper bags, the medium to light roasts are mostly single-origin from Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Ethiopia and Vietnam.
The team also hopes to educate casual coffee drinkers about the importance of these sustainable supply chains.
“To truly pay fair and ethical coffee costs a lotand it’s going to continue to be expensive,” Bradshaw said.
After those early days of tinkering with a Huky 500 roaster, Ki and Co. moved on to Roasterworks in Auburn, from where many micro roasters emerged. Their roasts have “gotten better over time,” Ki admitted. “We’re going to take a philosophy of certain people and roasting profiles, try them out, and say, ‘How can we improve on this?'”
Locally, they see Olympia Coffee, a certified B company, and Boon Boona Cafewhich sources only African beans, as role models in both taste profiles and sourcing.
For Hilltop coffee, they have a commercial Diedrich roaster waiting for when they have the funds to buy it – used and at a discount, “through a bunch of crazy circumstances and, I don’t know, god-given circumstances” , Bradshaw said.
CIVIC HILLTOP ROTISSEURS
Civic has picked up a faster pace in 2021, joining the Tacoma Sunday Market as a regular seller. In March, readers of The News Tribune named the upstart one of the best coffee roasters in Tacoma and Pierce County.
Meanwhile, Ki graduated from two local entrepreneurship programs — the Pierce County Business Accelerator Program and Spaceworks — which provide resources such as a business coach and accountant as well as matching grants. .
The trio took turns participating in other events such as the Rain or Shine Community Market and fundraisers for local nonprofits including L’Arche Tahoma Hope Community, which supports people with disabilities, and Guadalupe House, a transitional housing program.
Searching for their own space, they landed on the vacant storefront of Hilltop through morning side, an Olympia-based organization that helps people with disabilities find employment and become self-sufficient. The two entities will share the building near the split of the Sixth and Division, where Hilltop meets the North End.
Noting the historical implications of this cleavage — of redlining that stopped the Black Tacomans from buying homes in some neighborhoods for decades – Bradshaw pointed to the Civic’s logo, designed by Ki.
Drawn in thin black lines, it shows a mountain as a nod to Mount Rainier, and geometric buildings on either side of a bridge, evoking the Morgan Murray linking downtown to the Tideflats. She hopes that sounds somewhat universal, “because what Civic is and stands for isn’t exclusive to Tacoma, and the hope is that community engagement and investment might resonate with the people of Tacoma. other places”.
At the cafe, Bradshaw added, “Civic wants to be a place of transition, between history and present, between different people.”
There is a need for reintegration resources in Pierce County, where from 2014 to 2020 more than 1,100 prisoners each year were released, according to a county-by-county breakdown from the state Department of Corrections. A separate report correlating releases 2017-2020 at Pierce County with address information from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that a density of them returned to the Hilltop, South End, and Eastside neighborhoods of Tacoma.
Civic quietly launched its crowdfunding campaign in April, raising $55,000 of a goal of $150,000 as of this print. Every dollar amount will get a reward in return, from a sticker and a social media shoutout for $10-$30 up to a goodie bundle and a 12-ounce bag of coffee every month for a year for $500 to $1,000.
With an architect under construction and four years of roastery under their belt, the Civic team anticipates a late 2022 opening. A majority of the space will be dedicated to production, increasing wholesale capacity, while the retail side detail will offer views into this process and room to enjoy a cup or two.
“We really believe it’s something that a lot of people hold, and we want them to care about it as much as we do,” Bradshaw said.
“We don’t see this as our idea – it’s the city’s idea,” Ki said. “I never wanted to die on this hill because I wanted to open a cafe. My point of view is to reinvent the means for people on the margins to have a better life.
▪ 1601 6th Avenue, Tacoma, civicroasters.com
▪ Details: roasting and coffee aiming to open at the end of 2022
▪ Try now: order coffee online ($15 to $17.50 for 12-ounce bags, $40 for a three-pack, or $14 each with subscription); to follow instagram.com/civicroasters for their next pop-up event
▪ Support: civicroasters.com/crowdfunding