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Refugees supported, refugees cherished and refugees welcome is the sign on 1951 Coffee Company, a coffee shop staffed exclusively by refugees in the San Francisco Bay area. The coffee shop takes its name from the 1951 Refugee Convention, the year the United Nations established its guidelines for the legal obligations of the protection of refugees. These guidelines inform 1951 Coffee’s mission.
Founded by Rachel Taber and Doug Hewitt, 1951 Coffee supports refugee resettlement in the US in a very tangible way, to gain employment. Rachel and Doug combined their work with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and their past experience as baristas and conceived of offering a barista training program to give refugees a specific skill that would give them customer service experience and yield more than minimum wage. Without a US education, US job experience or references, refugees often struggle to find jobs while trying to learn the culture and language.
The coffee shop was designed by the Norwegian design team at Montaag as a mini museum to educate the community and advocate for refugees. Graphics and information about the UN refugee convention line the walls along with the challenges depicting the refugee journey, their life in the US and ways for community involvement.
Coincidentally, 1951 opened their doors at about the same time the travel ban was announced last January. With lines around the corner, the community found the coffee shop as a way to bring people together and respond. At the shop, the baristas have easy access to their customers that lends itself to informal chats across the bar. Connecting the community to the refugees is an important opportunity to help the community understand the refugee plight to start their life all over again and to help the refugees integrate into their new surroundings. Rachel says the customers and staff are all on the same level, have amazing conversations, and make connections with respect and dignity.
The barista training program has graduated 50 people and 1951 currently employs 9 of them from 7 different countries: Syria, Eritrea, Uganda, Afghanistan, Iran, Bhutan, and Myanmar. 1951 Coffee brings employment partners and resettlement agencies to their graduates, providing an important next-step in their integration into American society.
Rachel originally thought people would come for a good cup of coffee and then learn about their mission but in fact she discovered people come to learn about their mission and then have an amazing cup of coffee. The result is that their reviews show their customers keep coming back for the great coffee and service and these new baristas are empowered and hopeful as they are welcomed and supported by their new community.
Rachel said their dream is to expand to San Diego, Seattle and DC. For more information, go to their web site, 1951coffee.com.