Brewing a Coffee Company with a Social Mission

Brewing a Coffee Company with a Social Mission

Salt Spring Coffee founder Mickey McLeod shares his journey at Social Venture Institute Vancouver

VANCOUVER – Mickey McLeod was enjoying a Starbucks latte when he stumbled upon an idea that would lead him to build a more than $10-million coffee company committed to social values.

The founder and CEO of Salt Spring Coffee was already a coffee lover, and was reading Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying by Kenneth Davis, in which the author explains how to make delicious coffee by roasting your own beans using what resembled a popcorn maker.

Mickey was intrigued by the idea and decided to try it, buying the special machine and green coffee beans to roast on his home’s patio on Salt Spring Island. It was superb.

 
  Mickey McLeod

And Mickey instantly thought “this could be a business.”

“We blindly jumped into this thing,” Mickey tells an audience of nearly 100 attending Social Venture Institute (SVI) Vancouver.

He and his wife Robbyn Scott set up the company’s original organic coffee shop on Salt Spring Island in 1996. It was the right place to start, says Mickey, as the island located between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island was home to a demographic that appreciated quality and were willing to pay for it.

Salt Spring Coffee opened with a lineup and was so busy its first three days it had to shut down for another five to get its game on before reopening.

“Luckily, it was an instant success,” says Mickey, reminding entrepreneurs to “never give a firm date to open.”

The company eventually outgrew the small island, but not the values or culture of the place, or the nearby island Texada where Mickey grew up. He credits his mother’s kitchen table and the motley travellers who would stop by for feeding his mind with unique perspectives at an early age: from organic farming to philosophy.

“I really had the great fortune to be influenced by incredible people,” says Mickey.

It’s those values and ways of being that’s shaped Salt Spring Coffee to be the pioneering progressive company it is today. The more than 20-year-old company’s mission is to make great coffee without compromising the Earth, and is achieving this by committing to use business to achieve social and environmental goals. The certified B-Corp uses green power and is working towards a goal of zero waste.

Salt Spring is also going “deep” into its supply chain by working with its farmers to price coffee based on their production costs.

“It’s not something people in the coffee world get into but I find it’s what sparks me every day,” says Mickey, on working closely with indigenous farmers.

Mickey presented his story during SVI’s “true confessions,” a session where a successful social entrepreneur shares the highs and lows of growing a mission-based business. While Salt Spring had its challenges, from convincing buyers of the value of organic and Fair Trade coffee to straying from its core purpose into other business ventures, Mickey suggests charting a new path in business is worth taking risks.

“I guess I’d encourage all of you, whatever business you’re in, to dig deep (and) ask curious questions. Go to your uncomfortable zone as much as you can because that’s where you find the exciting pieces.”

Day 3 of Social Venture Institute Vancouver, which is part of Hollyhock's social innovation conference series, kicks off today (May 11).

Related Story:
Values-Based Women Business Leaders Convene

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Writer Bio

Camille Jensen's picture

Camille Jensen is an employee share ownership consultant with ESOP Builders, Canada’s largest provider of employee share ownership plans (ESOPs) for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Prior to joining ESOP Builders, Camille was a generative journalist and team member at Axiom News. She credits her time at Axiom as fundamental to her understanding that business is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Camille is a B.C. Partner for Social Impact and volunteer with Okanagan Changemakers.