Barista Magazine

APR-MAY 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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share is building up their community, not just through hosting events, but also as a tenet of everything Back of the Yards Coffee Co. stands for. Jesse and Mayra hire solely from the community, and seek out young people who might not fi nd job opportunities elsewhere. "It's important for kids to see their peers excelling," Mayra says, noting that many kids in the community often come to them without job experience because people assume they have nothing to contribute or might not be the traditional job applicant. "I have to remember that there are people that might need more help, and then there are people that are easier to help—and there's a difference. I need to help the kids that often don't get help." "Violence and unemployment go hand in hand," Jesse adds. He and Mayra work with the Peace and Education Coalition to hire young people, and a dollar from every bag of their house blend goes to sup- port scholarships and social initiatives for young people. Along with creating jobs, they're also committed to providing a pathway for their staffers to develop careers in coffee. The concept of a "career" is often diffi cult for youth in their community to grasp, or even think is a possi- bility. "The entry point of the coffee industry is through coffee shops," Jesse says, "and outside the farmer, most people in the industry don't look like us." Investing in local youth isn't without its challenges, but the work is important because many of the kids aren't afforded a ton of opportunities. "It's a privilege to fail," Jesse says. "If you're given second, third, fourth chances, you can do great things." This line of thinking translates to their coffee-sourcing philosophy, as well. That coincidental conversation with their neighbor—the one with family in Chiapas—sparked Mayra and Jesse's fi rst direct-trade partnership. "I wanted to ensure we weren't just being intentional in our community, but also with farmers," Jesse says. Mayra and Jesse are intent on developing more relationships with producers as they continue to grow and expand. They're already in talks about a second location, and are dreaming big for the future. "We want to open a training center because getting information about coffee was so diffi cult," Jesse says of their early research. "We also want to be in neighborhoods with a high concentration of Latinos. We want to go into communities where other coffee shops won't open," noting that most coffee shops are located on the wealthier North Side of Chicago. "We have big dreams and big goals." For anyone considering opening a café of their own, Mayra recom- mends being conscious of your neighborhood and space. "You have to build yourself into the community," she says. It's been a successful tactic for them, and when you think about it, the decision to devote the business to the health of the neighborhood was pure instinct, not some calculated strategy. Back of the Yards Coffee Co. hit its break-even point within a week of opening its doors. Jesse emphasizes that being community-minded isn't just good for the sake of being good—it's a smart practice. "This isn't just altruism—it just makes good business sense," he says. At the end of the day, Mayra and Jesse's goal is simple: They want Back of the Yards Coffee Co. to be comforting, intentional, and of service to their community. "We wanted our grandmothers to come in and feel comfortable," Mayra says. "Creating job opportunities is im- portant for us, and so is reclaiming our coffee identity. Coffee is brown as f—," she says with a smile. Jesse looks thoughtful for a moment, and then adds, "There's a quote from Cesar Chavez that says, 'We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our commu- nity. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.'" He pauses, then says, "I always ask, 'What am I doing for the people around me?' This is what drives me." 72 barista magazine

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