Featured Photo: Christopher Pierce and Ashley Griffeth started Loom Coffee Co. early on, shortly after the pandemic. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
Christopher Pierce and Ashley Griffeth don’t hesitate to pay more for their cup of coffee. In fact, they want others to get used to it too.
Loom Coffee Co. opened in early 2020, shortly after the pandemic, specializing in what is known as ‘third wave specialty coffee’. The co-founders, Christopher Pierce and Ashley Griffeth, collectively have over two decades of experience in the coffee business.
âI realized Greensboro is a more convenient place to do something like this because it’s not on the map in terms of specialty coffee,â says Pierce, who lived in Asheville before moving to Greensboro.
For coffee to be labeled as a specialty, it must meet certain standards and receive scores above 80 points from the Specialty Coffee Association. But what Pierce and Griffeth aim to do isn’t just bring high-quality beers to local stores. They are looking to change the way customers, baristas and business owners view coffee as a whole.
âIn Greensboro, you have a lot of cafes that aren’t so much about showcasing the talent and skills of the artisans as they are about showcasing customer service and the customer experience,â says Pierce, who worked in the horticulture before embarking on coffee. “And I think to really have quality you have to have a marriage of the two.”
One of the main issues Pierce and Griffeth say they see in many coffee shops is that they don’t pay their employees enough to care about their jobs or see coffee brewing as a viable career path. .
âThe business models we see in Greensboro are based on cheap coffee and cheap labor,â says Pierce. âPeople don’t want to see the price of a cup of coffee go up. They assume that coffee should be cheap and is a ubiquitous commodity. And when it comes to work, these types of business models tend to rely on the tip system to pay pretty close to minimum wage. “
A quick glance at barista salaries on Indeed, a job search website, confirms Pierce and Griffeth’s claim that those who work in cafes often do so for low pay. While the average base salary for a barista in the United States is $ 12.68 an hour, a map shows that in North Carolina, workers are paid 14% less than the national average, this which would put the hourly rate at just under $ 11 or $ 21,450 per year.
As former baristas, Griffeth and Pierce know what it’s like to create drinks for low-paying customers.
âWhen you are not professionally appreciated, there is this type of resentment,â says Griffeth, who is the company’s senior roaster. “It’s like, Well, I don’t want to know more. i don’t want to make money for you. “
But in order to enjoy great coffee, you not only need a great starter, but also skilled and motivated workers, they say.
âWhen someone works for near minimum wage, they don’t see it as a career and you don’t see cafes offering intensive training and a way to develop their skills,â says Pierce. âSo I think what we want to bring is a place where people can learn skills. Where they can see themselves as a craftsman and not just a âbaristaâ. There is no unskilled labor in any part of the supply chain.
Currently, Loom works with just one cafe in Greensboro: Borough Coffee, a mobile coffee cart that operates at different locations throughout the week.. (Disclosure: Sayaka Matsuoka’s husband Sam LeBlanc is an employee of Borough Coffee.) They say they’re in a conversation to partner with other businesses, but only if stores confirm they’re willing to pay their employees a living wage – $ 15 an hour.
âSpecialty coffee for me is a testament to the level of incentive and elevation of the whole coffee experience,â says Griffeth. âYou provide barista training and career opportunities to kind of fuel that passion for coffee that I think necessarily translates to the customer. When someone is excited about something it is something that people can say and understand and it is also a bit contagious and you want to know more.
They know it can be difficult for stores to immediately pay all of their employees $ 15 an hour, so they say they will work with owners to come up with a plan to eventually get them there. But they must be prepared to work with them.
âIf the situation in a cafe is such that their business model would collapse if they paid a living wage, then what good is it? Pierce asks. âIt is literally a system of oppression. “
And while the two worry that those who make the coffee drinks get paid, they are also focusing their efforts on buying coffee only from importers who pay living wages to the original farmers. One of their suppliers, De La Finca de Holly Springs, is a fifth-generation coffee producer from Honduras who began importing his family’s coffee to avoid middlemen. It’s about creating a fair pipeline to the consumer, they say. This is even where the name of their company comes from.
âWe often use this metaphor that good coffee is the result of a cooperative tapestry,â explains Pierce. âAnd we think of these individual threads as the individual stories of different people involved. So the more we can share the stories, the more we enrich the coffee experience and the better we understand the interconnectivity that occurs throughout the supply chain. “
Both have big plans for their business, albeit a small business. At the moment, they are roasting to order and doing mostly online sales, but they are also looking to sell in local stores. They are also waiting for the delivery of a larger roaster so that they can start producing more products. And who knows? Maybe in a few years they will open their own cafe. But for now, they are working to move the existing ones.
âOur business model is based on having the best coffee in town,â says Pierce. âSo if these other brands want to interact with our brand and sell our grains, they have to align with our values. “
Griffeth echoes Pierce’s explanation.
âQuality is the incentive to make these changes,â she says.
Learn more about Loom Coffee on their website loom.coffee or on Instagram @ loom.coffee. Try their coffee or buy their beans through Borough cafe.