The story of Koffee Therapy begins with Ella Hatcher.
Ella Hatcher was a proud, unassuming African American woman who lived in the Poplar Grove community.A native North Carolinian with an elementary school education, she was one of the first homebuyers in her neighborhood.She grew vegetables like cabbage, tomatoes, and pumpkin in her backyard, and made wine from dandelions. She was honest and hardworking, which afforded her being able to purchase items on credit from two of the neighborhood stores owned by Mrs. Paul and Mrs. Bird, who happened to be white.They knew what kind of woman Ms. Hatcher was, a kindhearted soul with a genuine concern for others, who often fed and took in people, particularly children, a few of whom she adopted.
Carter calls it the Ella Hatcher Principle, the beloved woman of whom happens to be his grandmother, the son of one of Ms. Hatchers adopted girls.Sitting in the coffeehouse listening to ambient music, and looking at the profound visual art of Eugene Cole, he relays this story with fondness.That is how he treats his regulars. They can purchase items from him on credit, knowing that they will settle their account.Sometimes they have to remind him. “It fosters friendship and community,” he declares.We have also laughed from time to time about the audacity of being such a business in this climate of corporate capitalism. “The heart of Koffee Therapy is being nice.”
He begins speaking about the growers and the workers who produce the fine blends he serves. “Organic Fair trade shade grown coffee that has not a lot of impact on the earth.Treating plants and people with dignity. I’m not on a finca in Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua.
They need to be paid for working hard. It’s so much more delicate for them.They live so much more closely to the bottom line. I don’t want coffee that doesn’t treat people fairly.” All of the sudden it becomes more than affording his regulars the dignity of being able to walk away with what they need and to be trusted they repay him. It is about that dignity towards all people that passed from his grandmother, which permeates Koffee Therapy.
That sense of friendship and community is manifesting in another way.Through the partnership of Enoch Pratt Free Library, there will be what is called Friend Raiser seminar series hosted at Koffee Therapy, which is geared toward business ownership.“We’re interested in trying to develop an opportunity so people can be self-employed,” Carter explains the motive behind the series.On a quarterly basis, participants will learn the different aspects of owning one’s own business, from the dream to the reality.
This includes research, selling the idea and cost management. Crucial questions will be asked, such as, can you picture yourself there?What makes you [your business] different? And most importantly, do you have the stamina? These were questions put to him a few years ago by Rick Little, founder of the International Youth Foundation when Carter and his partners were developing their business plan for Koffee Therapy, questions that are valuable to any business owner.
He is hoping that the series will nurture those who have dreamed about owning their own business, and giving them the tools to realize it. He hopes through this series not only will they succeed, but “potentially do better than me. That would be satisfying,” he smiles.
It’s been a wonderful six-month literal journey with Koffee Therapy. It is rare that an embedded journalist finds a home away from home in the process, which I have. But then Ms. Hatcher would not have it any other way.
-Koffee Therapy is being regularly featured in the Baltimore Times small & minority business magazine. www.btimes.com