Drink Well, Do Good: The Mission Behind Central City Coffee

A longtime Rose City nonprofit institution,  Central City Concern (CCC, 503-294-1681)—which is headquartered at 232 NW 6th Ave but has a strong presence throughout the Pearl and Old Town—is one of those highly valuable organizations that you may have heard or read a little about over the years. But if you’re like many Portlanders, you probably don’t realize the incredible extent to which CCC enriches the city we live in.

Since its founding in 1979, back when it was known as the Burnside Consortium, CCC has accomplished a tremendous amount—assisting thousands of Portlanders through a variety of innovative and dynamic employment, social, and housing programs. If you’ve shopped the coffee aisles of Whole Foods and other fine markets around the city, you may have noticed one of the newest and most successful of this nonprofit organization’s programs, Central City Coffee (503-226-7387). This artisan brand of high-quality, sustainable-sourced coffee beans provides java-loving consumers with a rewarding—and delicious—way to further CCC’s laudable efforts to help improve the lives of adults and families in the metro area who have faced setbacks as a result of homelessness, addictions, and economic hardship.

We talked with a few key members of the CCC team—Kathy Pape, Director of Public Affairs; Sarah Porter, Social Enterprises Program Manager; and Alex Brooks, Central City Coffee Account Representative—about the agency’s continuing commitment to Portland, and how its acclaimed wholesale coffee operation is helping to raise social awareness and support the organization’s broader mission. –By Fernando Nocedal

The Pearl: What role does Central City Concern play in the surrounding community?

Kathy: Central City Concern employs nearly 800 individuals, many of whom work in the Pearl and Old Town neighborhoods. CCC provides housing, healthcare, and employment to upwards of 13,000 people yearly. Programs and housing are located throughout the Portland metro area. Also, Central City Concern employs and trains “Clean & Safe” crews who clean up litter, remove graffiti, and clean public restrooms in the downtown and Pearl District areas. CCC leadership staff are active in the business community, participating in multiple business and neighborhood associations and working to ensure that the agency is fully engaged with the broader community.


The Pearl: What do you see as a growing concern in Portland in recent years that CCC is helping to alleviate?

Kathy: There has been growing concern in the community about homelessness. In addition to CCC serving roughly 13,000 people a year, the organization has interacted with business and civic leaders to advance new ideas to help even more people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. CCC is an active employer of formerly homeless individuals and frequently pursues new strategies for increasing the availability of affordable housing, improving health outcomes, and strengthening access to employment. Currently, CCC has 150 new units of affordable housing under construction and new programming underway to increase employment among previously homeless people.

The Pearl: How did the idea of Central City Coffee come about?

Sarah: In 2012, Central City Concern partnered with Portland State University’s Social Innovation Incubator to identify opportunities to create employment programs for our clients and to generate revenue for Central City Concern’s nonprofit services. Central City Coffee was the result of this partnership. The first products launched in October 2013. The program has since employed five temporary trainees. Trainees, in six-month positions, assist with compiling purchase orders, packaging, roasting, delivering, bookkeeping, sales, promotional and marketing activities, and customer service.  Trainees work in the office, production, and retail environments of the coffee business, where they can master transferable skills that will prepare them for a variety of careers. They also support the front desk, where they can develop reception and office management skills.

The Pearl: Can you tell us a little more about the coffee sourcing and production process? What have been the most popular beans or blends?

Alex: We take our time finding our coffees—we recognize that we must source as ethically as possible in order to be able to live up to our mission, “Drink well. Do good.” We buy coffees we love, and that support sustainable agriculture and livelihoods for those in coffee-producing countries. This makes our coffee product one of very few that helps facilitate social change from the beginning of the supply chain to the end. Our Velocity, currently a Colombian coffee from a co-op in Huila called Coocentral, is our most popular variety by a landslide. It’s the very definition of a crowd-pleaser. It’s sweet, has a soft acidity, and a lovely round body. People exclaim with some frequency and plenty of apparent shock that they “don’t even need cream and sugar!” That’s high and very welcome praise.


The Pearl: What are the nearest retailers to the Pearl that carry Central City Coffee?

Sarah: Whole Foods, New Seasons, and Food Front Coop are the best places to pick up our coffee. Also, Will Leather Goods serves our coffee gratis just for shopping at their lovely stores on both 10th and Burnside and on Northwest 23rd.

The Pearl: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Kathy: Central City Concern has a long history as an innovative problem solver, capable of generating creative revenue streams. Currently the nonprofit organization operates a Central City Bed business (selling bed-bug–resistant furniture and mattresses) as well as Central City Coffee. Previously the organization has owned and operated a Handyman Business as well as a secondhand furniture store.