Monday, January 13, 2014
Posted By: Nomonanoto Sidama | At: 1/13/2014 04:48:00 PM
On the walls of the Winter Garden coffee shop featuring peppermint bark latte and gingerbread whoopie pie are black-and-white photographs of an impoverished African city and its people. The city and the coffee shop share a name: Axum.
Axum Coffee was started three years ago by Mosaic Community Church pastor Renaut van der Riet to improve the lives of the 60,000 residents in Axum, Ethiopia.
"The heart of Mosaic is to make real redemptive change, locally and globally. The heart of Axum Coffee is the same thing," said van der Riet, 40, who was born in South Africa.
The plan was for the coffee shop's profits to go to his Oakland-based church's missionary work in the African community. The problem with the plan is there were no profits — until now.
This year, Axum Coffee will send about $10,000 to Axum, Ethiopia, where Mosaic has already invested $200,000 during the past three years to provide clean drinking water, orphan support, medical care and education.
The coffee shop's atmosphere is casual, cozy and familiar. The staff of 15, including husband-and-wife manager Mathias and Suzanne Bernal, strive to remember the names, drinks and tastes of their regular customers.
But nothing about the business hits the customer over the head that the money from a cup of coffee helps a child in Africa. There's a mission statement by the cash register and a line on the menus, added about a year ago, that all profits go toward making a better world. That's it.
"I'm proud of the coffee shop's mission and that even non-churchgoers like the humanitarian side of it," said Suzanne Bernal, 37, a Mosaic member.
What tea-drinking Renaut and his coffee-loving wife Brooke discovered after opening Axum Coffee in December 2010 was the profit margins in coffee shops are narrow and the learning curve is steep. And that one store in the trendy downtown of Winter Garden is not going to produce the profits needed to uplift a third-world city.
But they believe Winter Garden it is the right place to start something that can change the world one latte at a time.
"This is not the money-maker right here. This is the brand, this is the DNA, this is the reputation," said van der Riet. "If you want to make money in coffee, you need to be on a commuter route with a drive-thru."
From what he's learned in Winter Garden, van der Riet plans to open two more stores within the next 18 months. Eventually, there will be a chain of Axum stores selling coffee, tea, pastries and sandwiches to benefit Ethiopians who lack clean water, adequate medical care, basic educational supplies, and stable families.
He calls his brand of entrepreneurial mission work "coffeelanthropy."
"Education is very important, but if you don't have fresh water, then you have diarrhea all the time, and you don't go to school," he said.
In the past three years, Mosaic has spent $140,000 to help Axum extend water pipes from a reservoir to neighborhoods that had no access to clean water. The church has also assisted local agencies in providing about 500 orphans with stable family environments, food, and education.
Mosaic's impact on Axum is palatable, said Gabriel Forsyth, Mosaic's 31-year-old global pastor.
"It was easy to see the impact of the fresh water," he said.
Forsyth said Mosaic has recently started work with orphan care in the neighboring town of Adwa. The profits from a chain of coffee shops would allow Mosaic to replicate its efforts globally, Forsyth said.
"There are a lot of other cities like Axum and Adwa through the region and in other countries as well," he said.
Van der Riet's commitment to Axum goes beyond the financial and the spiritual. He and his wife have adopted four orphans from Axum who are roughly the same ages as their four children. They are nurturing their coffee business the same way they are raising their children — with great patience.
"We want to make sure we get this right and that will take another two or three years," he said.
Changing a city, raising a child, and creating a chain of coffee houses share some of the same risks, and many of the same rewards.
"Maybe it fails. Maybe it falls apart. That's the risk you always take," van der Riet concedes. "But I hope we can make this happen to become a national, reputable chain of coffee shops that change the world."
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