I started writing this blog post in late January with the intention of having it ready to publish in early February 2021. We had planned for a natural progression of three consecutive posts about our company values. As listed on the website, Community sits between Transparency and Sustainability, and is explained in a few simple sentences here. The last statement in the paragraph, “When we’re making business decisions, we want to consider our role in fellowship with others”, begs for further exploration. But how do we expand on this in one blog post? The task ahead of me seemed daunting. I let my other responsibilities take precedent, and left the saved Word document icon hovering on my laptop screen. To be fair, much of the source of my procrastination was not just from having to answer that single question, rather it was answering that question after living through 2020.
The global pandemic made our communities both more and less insulated. Our small team at the roastery and cafe turned into a “pod” to protect our health and safety, while our greater community moved to interacting mostly online. Masks and plexiglass dividers kept us separated from customers at the same time our engagement rate climbed on Instagram. The effects of the economic slowdown worldwide exposed the inequalities in our broken capitalistic system, meanwhile revealing the abundance of resources (time, money, talent) that could be mobilized to address these gaps. We saw customers contributing to the virtual tip jars popping up across the US to support laid off hourly coffee workers. Coffee workers themselves were fundraising for coffee farming communities devastated by hurricanes in Honduras and landslides in Rwanda. We saw customers using “shop small” hashtags on social media to signal support for neighborhood businesses, and local restaurants cooking food for houseless neighbors and those pushed deeper into poverty by the shutdown. It was a challenge to know exactly where to direct our attention as a company, and it was a tough, meaningful lesson to learn first-hand how we are all connected. It wasn’t limited to how this all affected our bank accounts either; these were visceral challenges that we were sharing as humans. How could we translate such incomprehensible suffering and now, having been vaccinated, such overwhelming relief as members of a community?
Another societal reckoning during the pandemic was spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement in reaction to police murdering black people and systemic and institutional racism. We saw citizens in our city of Portland participate in one hundred days of protest in tandem with mutual aid efforts during the summer of 2020. Black coffee colleagues and BIPOC-led companies shared their experiences of racism not only in the specialty coffee industry but across all industries. We witnessed attempted apologies by individuals, brands, and leaders that fell short, and promises to change that seem to still be stuck in the same limbo as my half-written blog post. As co-owners and as a company we initiated and responded to requests for assistance, financially as well as with goods and services. We attended trainings on transformative justice and white supremacy (specifically how it is rooted in our own states history). We updated our employee handbook with DEI policies, and participated in visioning exercises around our fourth value, Diversity. This may sound like a work in progress but it could be too little too late. This week the news of two more black people murdered at the hands of police gained national attention. One was a 13 year-old boy. We’ve been in business almost half of his life. The reality is that we are members in a community that allows children to be murdered by those sworn to protect and serve. How do we address this in a values statement?
Returning to considering our role in fellowship with others when making business decisions. Some may take inspiration of the word’s meaning in a biblical sense, while others, a Tolkien connotation. For us, it means that anything we do as a company should take into consideration the interests of others. In other words, to exist as a company is to take responsibility that we are not acting alone. Who are the ‘others’ that we’re referencing? Let’s start with our own team of co-owners and staff then going outward from there to vendors and wholesale partners, customers, coffee farmers, exporters and importers, our immediate neighbors/neighborhood, fellow coffee businesses and other businesses in Portland, and finally the greater coffee industry and people, flora, and fauna of the world. While listing the entire world as our community may seem like an overstatement we remind ourselves that the product we sell is not one that we can access locally. It is a product that was taken from where it was discovered in Ethiopia and propagated through colonialist power and rule over hundreds of years. To celebrate our connection to coffee’s source while not also recognizing the damage that the system perpetuates is unjust.
We had previously operated under the pretense that “our role” was to be decided and controlled by us. Isn’t this what we’re taught a business does? “It’s not self-serving, it’s entrepreneurial!” or, “It can be a win, win as long as I control the game”. But this mindset can actually be attributed to patriarchal and white supremacist culture. Before we opened Guilder a seasoned restauranteur gave us the advice that just because you can open a restaurant it doesn’t mean that you should. Many of us grew up being taught that our individualism should be rewarded. But the negative costs that others are forced to bare, as we know working with coffee, is layers deep. Our role then should be shaped by constant examinations and analyses of the power, privilege, and space that we occupy in each of our relationships. This requires much more learning and listening than it does taking action but that doesn’t mean we’re sitting back waiting for orders. We’ll just be better prepared when action is needed, and more comfortable playing a supportive role than the lead.
Now that I’ve pushed through my writer’s block I’m glad that in the end it wasn’t just a list of all the ways we’re connected in our communities to show that we’re somehow succeeding at practicing our values. I would have failed to express that as a value Community is aspirational and a requirement of being in business. We chose to open our roastery and café because we wanted to be in fellowship with others. It is not something that we could do alone even if we tried. To those in community with us, thank you.