Article: Moving Forward With Memory: The Ten-Year Retrospective Continues

Written by Cafe Campesino on Jun 1, 2008 in Article, NEWSLETTER |
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By Amy Leigh Tyson

In order to round out the ten year retrospective, we asked others besides Bill to share their impressions of Café Campesino, to produce a broader glimpse of those early days and ensuing years building up to the inspiring coffee business that it’s become.

While there have been a huge smattering of folks that have assisted in one way or another (with all efforts being vastly appreciated), we were forced by time and space to highlight a few people that immediately came to mind.For a unique overview, we turned to Geoffrey Hennies, who has been involved for most of the past decade, primarily working directly with Café Campesino at key summer events.

ALT: How and when did you meet Bill? What were your initial impressions of his idea to start Cafe Campesino?

GH: I actually met Bill after Café Campesino was started. He showed up at Koinonia* to see if they would be interested in carrying Cafe Campesino Fair Trade coffee in their mail order catalog. At the time I was coordinating the products management at Koinonia and, being a fan of the Fair Trade movement, I loved the idea of Koinonia helping out. I believe Koinonia was the first wholesale customer, and it was a natural fit. I remember for the first 4 years, sales of the coffee doubled each year. I remember we would stop by Bill or Aileen’s house to pick up the coffee in boxes left on the front porch.

(*Koinonia is a Christian farm community with a thriving mail order business focused around key indigenous Georgia products. It is located just outside of Americus.)

ALT: What captivated you about the business that made it a worthwhile endeavor for you to commit to being involved?

GH: After being frustrated with the traditional business model, I was very intrigued by a business that was established to help people and not just to make money. Bill seemed like just the right person to create a successful business while always keeping the producers’ interests in mind.

ALT: What have been some of your roles throughout the past ten years?

GH: In 2000, Bill had contacted the director of Bike Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) to see if Cafe Campesino could serve coffee to the riders as they were coming through Americus. The ride organizer suggested that we serve coffee to the riders every day of the ride which meant traveling and camping with the riders. Bill asked if I would be willing to help, and I jumped on it. The first year Bill and I had brewers and a pile of extension cords and we managed to serve a mob of riders each morning, Bill wanted to do some of the riding and I remember him making business deals on his cell phone as he rode along.

In 2002, I was looking to spend some time somewhere outside Koinonia and Bill needed someone to research an online shopping system for Cafe Campesino, so I helped out in that way, too.

ALT: Briefly describe the roles of some of the other key players during the early days.

GH: I know Aileen Pistone was at Café Campesino from the beginning, but unfortunately I never really got to know or work with her. She designed the first website for Cafe Campesino, and she also redesigned the Koinonia website just before I started doing web design.

Daniel Pistone (Aileen’s younger brother) and I worked together just once briefly while I was getting ready for a Georgia bike ride event. I remember he and Bill came out to meet us mid-ride to restock our supplies and give us one day off, which was much appreciated.

Daniel was the type of person who was willing to handle any task thrown at him, so for about two years, he took care of much of Café Campesino’s day-to-day needs—fulfilling and packing coffee orders, collecting payments, making deposits, and handling outreach at events. His insight in pursuing partnerships with non-profits is an element still in practice today, and he played a vital role.

I worked with Marcia Freed a bit more and remember her being perhaps the friendliest person I have ever work worked with. We shared many ideas of simple living, and I was impressed that she rode her bike the 7 miles into work each day down the narrow Georgia highways. When we worked together, it was usually to navigate the sometimes difficult process of importing orders from the Yahoo store into the Quickbooks system. Finding ways to integrate with Quickbooks has been a re-occurring theme at Cafe Campesino.

Then in 2002, Lee Harris came on board. By then I had returned to Koinonia and began doing some more traveling, but I remember he brought a really nice, focused energy to Cafe Campesino. As a former trained chef, he also conveyed a level of expectations and a mastery to the roasting process, being quite committed to it and to creating the best possible roasts and unique blends.

ALT: What were some of the turning points and challenges, particularly in the first several years? How did you or the others handle any temporary setbacks or business fluctuations?

GH: I guess I was pretty immune to this, except perhaps in the order processing department. Most companies are able to set up one system and stick with it. Cafe Campesino seems to outgrow these systems every couple of years. I have seen in Bill a very steady worker. If there were challenges, he always seemed to have a plan for the next move. Perhaps it was experimental, but it always seemed to turn out for the better in the long run.

ALT: What in your opinion have been some of the advancements in the past 4-5 years?

GH: The arrival of Tripp Pomeroy, General Manager, was certainly a turning point. Tripp brought a very solid business mentality, which I think Cafe Campesino needed in order to become absolutely solid. This has not always been an easy adjustment, but I think it was necessary to build the business. The time of experimentation got transformed into having business plans and watching the cash flow.

ALT: Do you have any particular thoughts or comments regarding the ten year anniversary benchmark? What things do you hope to see in the future with Cafe Campesino?

GH: As I have always said, the reason I am so committed to Cafe Campesino is because of the unyielding commitment to the Fair Trade model of business. In every day practice, that is done by honoring the producer as the most important part of the business and carrying that message to the consumer. I look forward to helping find ways to further this model using the internet and the transition to social networking, as well as perfecting the model of bringing a great cup of coffee to as many customers as possible, both through e-commerce and event sales.

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