Coffee shop provides refugees employment
When a barista hands over your pumpkin spice latte, you probably don’t consider the path that brought them to stand across the counter from you. But at Light House Coffee, a Baton Rouge specialty coffee shop projected to open in March 2018, the barista’s life journey is actually the point.
Light House Coffee is gearing up to launch its first cafe, a space on Lee Drive near the intersection of Highland, that will train and employ those who have come to the United States as refugees, while also educating customers and the Baton Rouge community about refugee life and issues.
The team behind Light House Coffee—which draws its name as a symbol of hope—is Cindy Barker, and Amber and Steve Elworth, a husband and wife duo who have worked with helping refugees resettle in the United States and find jobs. Steve Elworth works as a minister at Chapel on the Campus and Amber formerly worked as an English instructor at Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge, an official refugee resettlement agency in Louisiana. It was during her time at Catholic Charities that Amber learned about the needs of refugees, and explained that’s how Light House Coffee started as an idea to alleviate some of the culture shock.
“They’ve gone through so much trauma,” Elworth said. “And they have been waiting potentially a decade to get here. We want to be thought of as a house of light just because refugees have gone through so much darkness. We want them to have light and hope for their new home and new future in Baton Rouge.”
According to Elworth, Catholic Charities receives over 100 refugees every single year from countries ranging from Sudan, Burma, Congo, to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Refugees are defined by the United Nations as people who have been forced to flee their countries because of persecution, war or violence and often have “well-founded fears of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” Many people think refugee equals illegal immigrants, but that is not the case. There is no such thing as an illegal refugee in the U.S.
After arriving in the United States, refugees have eight months of assistance from the government and Catholic Charities, but after that, they are expected to be self-sufficient. Because of that, it is essential for refugees to find employment as soon as possible. However, many refugees arrive knowing very little English, and there is also a cultural barrier.
“We want to be an employer that could be a little more sensitive to the things they need coaching in,” Elworth said, who plans to provide refugees with classes that promote language learning and other skills needed for employment growth.
Coffee is a significant foundation in the Elworth marriage. Both have prior work experience in the coffee industry, and part of the love story that brought the two together was the idea to open a coffee shop in North Africa. That opportunity closed, so the pair batted around the idea of opening a café that would help refugees.
“My husband and I love coffee,” Elworth said. “We have been dying to have more good coffee shops in Baton Rouge. When we travel, we don’t go to museums; we don’t go to different tourist places, we go and try to find all the good coffee shops.”
Light House Coffee plans to serve a variety of coffees, pastries and light meal options with refugees working as baristas, servers, and cashiers. The shop will also offer handmade products such as pottery, weaved cloths and jewelry as a fair-trade gift shop called the Hope Shop via a partnership with Hands Producing Hope and other organizations that benefit people overseas.
“We are supporting people who don’t have the opportunity that Baton Rouge artists have,” Elworth said. “We’re hoping our products can help people who are in situations that we can’t even fathom, whether it’s prostitution or extreme poverty.”
Although Light House Coffee does not have an exact opening date, Elworth expects to open in March at 257 Lee Drive. It will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
Photos by Sean Gasser