Can a Coffee Company Change a Neighborhood, One Bike-delivered Bag of Beans at a Time?

Having been hit by three cars in as many months (twice she was a driver, once a pedestrian), Joya Iverson thought, “What’s the worst that could happen?” when putting her life savings and house on the line to start Tin Umbrella Coffee (a roaster, shop, and bike delivery service). The accidents motivated her to make a change from her fast-paced consulting and traveling life, to cancel her one-way ticket to move to Ethiopia and stay in Seattle, but it was her Hillman City neighborhood that compelled her to open a coffee shop.

“I just wanted to stop getting hit by cars,” she (rightfully) whined. But as a coffee lover, the lack of a shop (even a Starbucks) in the area bugged her, and she saw an opportunity to make a simultaneous difference in her own future and that of Hillman City. Coffee was at the crux of her interests: she couldn’t travel to Guatemala or Ethiopia right then, but she could buy beans from there, immerse herself in the culture vicariously, and support the places she loved.

As a former business consultant, she understood why a shop didn’t exist in Hillman City. Without foot traffic, it was a challenge to slow people down and encourage them to peer in. In mapping out a way to increase business, she landed on becoming a roaster and offering subscription coffee delivery. So instead of just starting a coffee shop in the neighborhood, she decided to open a roaster and bicycle coffee delivery service, too.

The business plan killed two birds with one stone: financially support a coffee shop in an area that otherwise couldn’t, and bring in jobs (bicycle delivery people, roasting operations) to a neighborhood that otherwise doesn’t have many. With every turn of her plan, another neighborhood element came into play. Extra kitchen space is rented out to cottage-industry cooks and bakers, who can also sell their wares in the pastry case (look out for boozy pies from It’s Pie Life and sambusas from a local Ethiopian restaurant). Eventually, those too, will be available by the same bike delivery as the coffee.

Even though only the shop portion is open so far—currently serving coffee from Olympia Roasters until roasting begins in mid-August—Iverson says that people have already started to slow down as they drive by and that she’s picking up less litter on the block around the store.

This Saturday will be the grand opening festival, a celebration of the opening of Tin Umbrella Coffee, but also a celebration of the neighborhood. Local muralist “Henry” will be on hand doing watercolors, tours of the roasting facility will be offered, and samples of those boozy pies will be out.

 
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