If you visit RedTail Coffee in Fort Collins, Colorado, your barista could very well be homeless. The coffee shop aims to provide employment opportunities to homeless and low-income people in its community. But its owners also hope to change the attitudes of people throughout the rest of the area.
Seth Kelley, who opened the business with his wife Kelly, told  the Coloradoan:
“When people come though our shop and have a positive experience, we can challenge those stereotypes. We also want to show that a for-profit can serve a social purpose.”
The idea for RedTail Coffee came when the Kelley’s attended a neighborhood meeting where residents discussed a new affordable housing project for homeless and low-income people. The housing project, called RedTail Ponds, is scheduled to open next year. The couple learned that many members of the community were hesitant to support the project.
The coffee shop is near the housing development, and plans to focus its hiring efforts on residents once it opens.
The Kelley’s liked the idea of providing affordable housing options to those in need. And they wanted to find a way to get their neighbors on board with the idea as well.
The couple had experience with non-profit work. So they put their heads together and came up with the idea to start a business where the residents of the housing development could work and also interact with other members of the community.
They chose to open a coffee shop, despite being new to the coffee business. So they hired some experienced baristas to teach them and their future employees about the coffee business. For now, the business has one homeless employee that the couple hired through a connection with a local non-profit.
The decision to hire professional baristas and focus on quality was an important one. Customers drawn to the coffee shop for its cause remain committed because of the quality of its product and service.
Having a social cause can be a great way to set yourself apart from competitors. That’s particularly helpful for something as ubiquitous as a coffee shop. But, in the end the quality of the customer experience is what keeps a business successful in the long run.
The jobs at RedTail Coffee pay above minimum wage, but they’re not handouts or training programs, says Seth Kelley. They’re real jobs. Employees will need to provide great service along with quality products in order to change attitudes and stereotypes about the homeless in their community.