BUSINESS • BY BRANDON GREEN
In the heart of Old Town Takoma Park, under the gazebo, Blessed Coffee was inaugurated as a benefit corporation, dedicated to help the city of Takoma Park as well as the coffee farmers of Ethiopia.
About 100 people gathered as founder Tebabu Assefa introduced Takoma Park City Officials, Governor Martin O’Malley, and his business associate Tadesse Meskela, in a celebration that would mark the beginning for the coffee wholesaler.
The inauguration was a festive affair with two of Assefa’s signature coffee flavors – Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Sidama – available for sample and purchase. Community members socialized with Takoma Park city officials as women dressed in Traditional Ethiopian clothing went around passing out traditional Ethiopian cuisine and cooked coffee beans under the gazebo top.
With Ethiopia being the birthplace of coffee and its ancient coffee ceremony tradition intertwined into Ethiopian society, Assefa said he wants to be able to bring that culture of interconnectedness to Takoma Park.
“I want to create a community space where people can come and forge relationships”, said Assefa.
Not only was this an inauguration for Blessed Coffee but this was a celebration for Maryland’s new benefit corporations.
“We are standing at the intersection of business profit and and social responsibility, and there is a new type of corporation that balances the responsibility of making a profit with the responsibility of making a positive impact in this world,” said O’Malley.
Benefit corporations were created with the help of State Senator Jamie Raskin in efforts to boost Maryland’s economy and positively affect surrounding communities. Unlike traditional corporations, Benefit Corporations must by law create “a material positive impact on society; consider how decisions affect employees, community and the environment; and publicly report their social and environmental performance using established third-party standards”, according to B-lab, a non-profit organization dedicated to create more benefit corporations and increase awareness on the topic .
Maryland was the first state to legally create this type of business for social entrepreneurs. Other states that have recently joined the trend have been Vermont, Virginia, New Jersey and Hawaii. Blessed Coffee is the second benefit corporation created in Maryland and the second in Takoma Park.
“We have some visionary entrepreneurs in our state, and apparently two of the most visionary, of course, have come out of Takoma Park,” said Governor O’Malley.
One of the main reasons why businesses are seeking to become certified in this new type of institution is because of the benefits.
“There are many benefits to [Benefit Corporations]. You can’t be sued because you make a socially or environmentally conscious decision rather than one that just looks to the corporate bottom line,” said Raskins. “But also you are sending a very powerful signal to your consumers to your workers and to the community as what kind of business you are.”
Assefa pledged 50 percent of the net profits from his wholesaling revenue to programs that would help Ethiopian Coffee Farmers. And with the hope of opening a small coffee shop in Takoma Park’s business district on Carroll Ave. in the next six to eight months, he promised 50 percent of the net profits from the coffee shop’s revenue to the City of Takoma Park.
He plans to donate this money into what he has established as the Blessed Coffee Community Fund. This fund includes 13 organizations such as the Takoma Foundation and local school PTAs.
In the next two and a half to three years Assefa plans to open a full-fledged Ethiopian style coffee cottage. He hopes this cottage will become a center for local community development and activity.
Founder of Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU), Tadesse Meskela, has partnered with Blessed Coffee to help the conditions of coffee farmers in Ethiopia. As the general manager of OCFCU he represents 101 Co-operatives and the livelihoods of over 74,000 coffee farmers, which including their families are over half a million people.
During the event Meskela brought to attention the farmers that are struggling in the coffee market in Ethiopia.
“Obviously, the coffee business is good for the corporations and for those who engage in the retail arena. The question is, why is it that the producer of such a valuable agricultural commodity cannot afford to…Feed their children? Put closes on their backs? Have access to drinking water?”
Assefa promised to help fellow Ethiopians who are struggling in situations just like these and said that with the support of the community that would be possible.
“I don’t know about you but as soon as we are able to buy coffee from Tebabu and Blessed Coffee I’m not going to Starbucks,” said Raskin.
You will be able to find Blessed Coffee in about 5 to 10 stores, restaurants and businesses in Takoma Park, in the next three weeks.
A slideshow of photos by Voice photo editor Julie Wiatt should load below. If you have trouble viewing it, please visit voice.smugmug.com/Business/BlessedCoffeebyJulieWiatt.