Saturday, January 07, 2017

Kenyan coffee shop opens after FDOT delays

A large part of the delay was insensitive FDOT's inexplicably long time in approving a simple curb cut. Racism?

Growers Alliance coffee shop opens after delays from hurricane


Contributed Purity Gikunju and Martin Kabaki stand with their coffee grinding operation in Jacksonville. The two have opened Growers Alliance Cafe & Gift Shop on Anastasia Boulevard. 
Eight years ago, Purity Gikunju and Martin Kabaki started to hook St. Augustine on the Kenyan coffee their families and neighbors grow in their native country.
It was a small operation at first as they carted coffee pots from Jacksonville to the local farmers market on Saturday mornings, trying not to spill the hot liquid on their feet in the process.
Today, they’re celebrating the grand opening of what they hope will be the first of several coffee shops.
The Growers Alliance Cafe & Gift Shop at 322 Anastasia Blvd. is having its grand opening at 3 p.m. today. It marks the beginning of a new phase in the life of the business and the end of a difficult period for Gikunju and Kabaki.
A two-year process of a turning a former auto repair shop into a coffee shop was further delayed when Hurricane Matthew flooded Anastasia Boulevard just days before Growers Alliance was about to open in October 2016.  But the couple, who had operated out of a food truck on the property while working to get the shop in order, just accepted the setback and remained focused on the goal of preparing to open.
Actually, the damage wasn’t even as bad as Gikunju feared when she got to the flood-damaged store.
“In my mind, I was thinking everything was flattened,” Gikunju said. “Our hearts went out to everyone else.”
As harrowing as the experience was, both Gikunju and Kabaki said they feel the troubles only made them stronger and more appreciative of the St. Augustine community.
“The storm has brought everyone together,” Gikunju said. “It’s like people are all holding hands to see how they can help out.”
Added Kabaki: “We feel like we can survive anything.”
The extra weeks needed to prepare for the opening have not done anything to leave Gikunju and Kabaki dispirited. They remained determined to keep their dream going.
That attitude has impressed some of the Growers Alliance’s loyal customers, including St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver.
Shaver said she was drawn to the coffee from her early days in St. Augustine visiting the farmers market. She’s gotten to know Gikunju and Kabaki as they went through the various zoning processes to get their shop open — and to have a drive-thru.
“They are the most upbeat, kind, lovely people,” said Shaver, who will participate in the grand opening festivities.
“The singular view of what they wanted to do and absolute refusal to budge from that (is impressive). I do genuinely think it (the shop) has all the makings of a destination (business).”
Getting the shop open at time when the Anastasia Boulevard corridor is going through a “reimagining,” as Shaver puts it, also seems to be fitting. Some of the other area businesses that have opened in recent years, like the Balefire Brasserie and Planet! Sarbez!, even serve the Growers Alliance coffee.
“We feel fortunate that despite the delays the timing has been perfect because the (Anastasia Boulevard) district is booming,” Kabaki said.
In the weeks since the soft opening, Kabaki said the store is seeing more traffic each day, which makes him optimistic of the future success of the business.
There’s a lot riding on that possible success even beyond Kabaki and Gikunju.
One of the reasons they got into the coffee business was to support Kenyan farmers and, in turn, help communities where they used to live. (Gikunju and Kabaki grew up in different villages and met in the United States.)
The sale of Kenyan coffee increases access to clean water and health care in the country, so Gikunju and Kabaki obviously want to help with that.
And in an effort to showcase their native country and what the coffee industry can do for the lives of the people there, the couple even organizes trips to Kenya where visitors can volunteer on a farm or a dialysis clinic in addition to the traditional safari.
“The best fulfillment for me is the change back home,” Kabaki said. “We feel like we are helping empower people.”
Added Gikunju: “That’s my joy knowing these kids are impacted every day.”
6 hours ago
Kate Mullet
So looking forward to this and supporting the partnership between Kenya and this local business.

Please reconsider your Starbucks run to instead put your money here.
4 hours ago
Welcome to town!  Looking forward to visiting your store

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