Cooperatives are popular amongst coffee producers, but rarely seen in retail business. Loyal Coffee takes the coop model and uses it to open a business that relies on the individual strengths of its members.
Story by Michal Bennett
All pictures courtesy of Loyal Coffee
Grower and wholesale cooperatives are prevalent in the modern coffee world. A coffee farmer coop is generally thought of as a group of producers who join together to increase the market power of the coffees they producer. On the other hand, a green bean buyer coop is typically formed by independent businesses to improve their purchasing power. Loyal Coffee Company in Colorado Springs is also a type of cooperative, and the six baristas who own and operate it are bringing this model into a realm that has little precedent ”a coffee company.
œKind of how it got started, explains Tyler Hill, head of marketing and PR relations at Loyal, œwas a couple years ago [a group of Colorado Springs baristas] started gathering sort of as a think tank about once a week. Each meet-up resulted in intriguing conversations, personal encouragement, and professional challenges. œWe talked about tons of different coffee experiences and issues, says Hill, œbut we weren’t necessarily trying to open a coffee shop. Yet, with time and discourse, they began to wonder if maybe they could actually implement their ideas and œdo this for real.
For many baristas, their long-term goal is to hopefully open their own café or roaster or another business within the many facets of coffee. But, this is often a difficult and dubious ambition. Hill admits that each of Loyal’s coop members could possibly have started their own coffee company, but he also figures that individually they would have had to settle for something less than what they envisioned, something mediocre. Hill says, œWe really wanted to open up an excellent café, and I think we just knew that one of us, all by ourselves, couldn’t do it to the best that we could. We really didn’t have an option. So, six baristas with distinctive skill sets, talents, and experience came together to create a company that would create community, not just among themselves, but also in the city that œwe are madly in love with: Colorado Springs.
On October 1st, 2016, Loyal Coffee held their official grand opening. Their original business plan described a small, boutique café, but that quickly changed when they were approached with an auspicious opportunity to open a larger operation right next to a new apartment complex in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. Now, they are actually serving customers, roasting coffee, and testing the structure they have put in place to make this cooperative work. œWe have clear goals and clear roles, says Hill. Each owner is equally invested, and with the help of a business coach, they defined precise positions and tasks for one another. The most important part of their jobs is to stick to and honor those roles. The honoring is probably the hardest part. œYou can have these roles, says Hill, œbut if you don’t have people who are humble enough to honor their roles and the other people, it doesn’t matter.
It’s kind of like being married, but to five other people. Yes, there have been miscommunications and disagreements. œThere is no doubt about it ”having six people around you creates the opportunity for there to be muddled communication, says Hill. œThat is always our fear. But they know that misconceptions and communication failures are an inevitable reality. And they are deeply committed to talk about and work through it for the sake of Loyal Coffee.
This resonant loyalty to each other spills over into every aspect of their business. From the day they opened, and even before, the coffee community of Colorado Springs has shown up and supported them. With their name and their model, Loyal communicates that they don’t have to be envious of places like Portland and Austin and Seattle to get great coffee. By investing in excellence in your own city and œwatering the grass at your feet, you can contribute to creating something great right where you live. œOur goal right now, says Hill, œis to keep a successful café successful, to serve our city the best we can, treat our people with honor and respect, and really just serve each person well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michal Bennett is a freelance writer, poet and blogger, dedicated to creative and inspirational story telling. She and her husband live in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where she often succumbs to the allure of the outdoors and local living. In addition to writing, she shows her poetry as art, and teaches writing and cooking classes.