Southwest residents support nonprofit with coffee sales
Mark-Peter Lundquist said CityKid Java was a risk from the get-go.
“Most nonprofits that start for-profits fail,” Lundquist said.
By that standard, CityKid Java has been beating the odds for more than four years now.
The coffee company was founded in 2002 to support programs at Urban Ventures, a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to helping youth and strengthening families in South Minneapolis.
It has gone from losing about $70,000 in its first year to turning a $250,000 profit in 2006. And 100 percent of those earnings are pumped back into Urban Ventures.
The two Southwest residents at its helm - Lundquist and CityKid Java CEO Kelly Bent - said success flows from putting coffee quality first.
“We have always really hung our hat on that it's really good coffee,” Bent said.
Jon Broughton, cafeteria manager at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, said a recent switch to CityKid Java boosted coffee sales 20 percent at one location in the Downtown office building.
“The flavor profiles are competitive with any national brand, by far,” Broughton said.
In March, CityKid Java went on sale in the cafeteria at Best Buy corporate headquarters. It soon accounted for nearly half of all coffee sales in the building, Bent said.
Bent said their organic, shade-grown beans are also available in about 50 Twin Cities supermarkets, including Cub Foods and Kowalski's locations.
Every sip of CityKid Java directly supports youth like 14-year-old Phillip Vaughn.
The Washburn High School freshman said he joined Urban Ventures' PowerHouse program about four years ago just for “something to keep me off the streets.” At the time, Vaughn said he was struggling academically and getting in trouble at a school.
PowerHouse is a support group for teens with emotional and behavioral issues. Members meet regularly to both talk about the traumas of their pasts and encourage each other to succeed.
“Before I was just horrible in school, and ever since (joining PowerHouse) I've been doing better,” Vaughn said.
Lundquist, the director of programming at Urban Ventures, said programs like PowerHouse were at risk in 2002. Like many nonprofits, Urban Ventures saw donations slack off during the economic downturn.
“We wanted to create a stream of support in unconventional ways,” he said.
It was Lundquist's business background that led him to pitch coffee sales in a brainstorming session. For three years, he balanced work at the nonprofit with another part-time job: team leader at a Caribou Coffee.
It may have been an unconventional solution, but CityKid Java has also proven profitable.
Urban Ventures currently operates on a $2.2 million annual budget. The 10-year goal for Lundquist and Bent is to bring in half of those dollars through CityKid Java.
Growing CityKid Java's fundraising potential may ultimately mean expanding into the national market, Lundquist and Bent said.
That move would also mean expanding CityKid Java's mission beyond support for Urban Ventures' work in the Phillips and Central neighborhoods. But for now the focus is squarely on South Minneapolis.
Bent said she hopes to get Urban Ventures youth more involved with CityKid Java, possibly creating part-time positions with the company or their roaster, B&W Specialty Coffee Company on East Hennepin Avenue. The youth already accompany her on sales calls and benefit from exposure to a corporate environment, she said.
Their presence - a reminder of CityKid Java's mission - may help sell the product. But Lundquist said the flavor should speak for itself.
“We know coffee,” he said.
Reach Dylan Thomas at 436-4391 or [email protected].