Even before they were married, Amber and Steve Elworth each dreamed of opening a coffee shop as a vehicle for social change. Enjoying a great cup of coffee was a big part of their daily lives, and they believed that a coffee house done right could offer jobs, build community and foster the greater good.
A decade later, the couple has realized their dream with the launch of Light House Coffee, a specialty coffee shop in Baton Rouge. A Bank of St. Francisville business customer, Light House is a haven for coffee aficionados, serving high quality coffee bought directly from growers in El Salvador, Kenya, Ethiopia, and other countries.
“We’re a direct trade coffee shop, which is a step up from fair trade,” says Amber. “Direct trade businesses purchase coffee beans directly from growers, cutting out middle men.”
Moreover, the operation is considered a specialty coffee house, which means the manner by which the coffee is grown, roasted, brewed and served follows specific industry standards. The idea is to create a top-notch experience for coffee drinkers resulting from excellence at every stage.
But what really stands out about Light House Coffee is its mission to improve the lives of refugees fleeing violence from their home countries. It’s a cause near and dear to the Elworths’ hearts. Amber formerly taught English to refugees at Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Program in Baton Rouge, which works with men and women who have been resettled by the UN Refugee Agency. Steve, a pastor, is the global and local outreach director for The Chapel on the Campus, also in Baton Rouge.
“We were drawn to the refugee crisis around the world,” says Amber. “It was clear to me in working with so many students and hearing about their experiences, that finding and keeping a job was absolutely imperative to their success.”
Thus, employing refugees is central to Light House’s mission. Ultimately, the Elworths envision half of Light House workforce to be comprised of resettled individuals. The coffee house will also hold regular classes for refugees in its community room on topics like soft skills, cultural norms in the American workplace, computer skills and more.
“For example, one thing you have to have in this country is an email address, and we’ll cover that in our computer class,” says Amber.
To get Light House off the ground, the couple raised start-up capital through the crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo. In addition, several individuals eager to support their mission invested in the venture. The Elworths also secured a BSF loan to ensure they had adequate working capital.
“The bank has been great to work with,” says Amber. “We feel like we have a lot of support.”
A big part of their start-up cost was building out the Lee Drive strip mall storefront, a former Mr. Dollar discount store.
“It was really important that people were drawn to the space and felt comfortable being here,” says Amber. “We added a kitchen, a second bathroom and we created our conference room, which community groups can rent.”
Along with specialty brews, Light House sells fresh baked goods and pastries from local bakers, Counterspace and Mimi’s Louisiana Kitchen, and homemade baklava from one of its employees, Iraqi refugee, Shaymaa Al Shammari.
“Public response has been great,” says Amber. “We’re just really excited about how many people have enjoyed the experience and have learned something from what we’re doing.”