The Artery Hires Aspiring Roasters with Disabilities

A cartoon of a black and white artery smiling with the artery in bold lettering inside, holding a coffee cup.

The Ottawa-based roaster provides a living wage and stable employment.

BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of The Artery

The team at The Artery Community Roasters in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, loves two things: freshly roasted coffee, but mostly helping the community. A pandemic-born business, The Artery is a roaster-specific company that is helping people living with disabilities find worthwhile employment as coffee roasters. 

Will Wells (he/him), owner and head roaster, is the man behind this amazing project. 

Will Wells, founder of The Artery roaster in Ottawa, Canada.

At The Artery, the main mission is to provide stable employment and work experience, paid at a living wage, for people living with disabilities through his roastery. Here, wages start at $16 Canadian dollars/hour and increase steadily, while in most Canadian provinces, people living with disabilities still earn between 20-25% less than the average income earned by people without disabilities.

A Passion for Coffee

The Artery is playing a small but very important role in helping to change this, and in doing so they want to show other businesses that not only is hiring people with disabilities the right thing to do, but often, consumers want to support companies that give back. 

“I fell in love with coffee and the stories behind it during a conversation with a taxi driver from Ethiopia, whom I had become friends with after many late-night drives home, as I was working a night shift as a young public servant during the H1N1 pandemic,” Will says. 

“The taxi driver told me about the traditional method of home-roasting coffee in Ethiopia in a frying pan, often for guests, and that’s basically what I started to do: sourcing green beans wherever I could, roasting them in a frying pan to very mixed results,” Will says. “I then upgraded machines to the point of roasting small-batches in my garage for friends and charity events. At a particular charity event I started, Jessie Jam (a two-on-two basketball tournament in honor of my friend Jessie, who I had met through my volunteering and had passed a few years before), my coffee was really selling well at the charity auction, and here is where the light bulb had gone off.” 

Will had for years wanted to open a social enterprise coffee shop that exclusively hired people with disabilities, but also was dreading the idea of working behind an espresso bar (and asking others to), as it’s not an easy job. And his real passion was in roasting coffee, not necessarily serving it, so at that moment he realized that just a roastery, not a coffee shop, was the way forward to fuse his love for coffee with his love of volunteering and advocating for the community of people with disabilities. 

At The Artery, the goal is to provide roasting skills and jobs to folks with disabilities.

Team Effort

The Artery is so much more than just Will. It’s Erin, the social media manager who runs the show all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia, whose life changed drastically after an incident in 2016. Shelly, aka “Aunt Shelly,” is Will’s longtime friend and The Artery’s “on-air personality,” who more recently has been helping Will at their farmers markets. Last but not least is Mireille, who is learning the ins and outs of coffee packaging. And they are about to welcome their fourth employee, Jim, to the team, who will be learning how to roast! 

You can find more people with amazing stories on The Artery’s official page and social media; they not only care for people, but also for the environment, and for the coffee beans that are always ethically sourced.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating along with her boyfriend. 

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