Buying a cup of coffee is simply a daily routine, but with the reopening of one of 1951 Coffee Company’s locations, customers can once again turn a beverage into “a life-altering opportunity,” according to 1951 Coffee co-founder and CEO Doug Hewitt.
According to Hewitt, 1951 Coffee is a nonprofit organization that runs three East Bay cafes dedicated to training and employing refugees. After closing all of its locations due to the coronavirus pandemic, 1951 Coffee reopened its doors on Channing Way on July 15.
“1951 Coffee Company has enjoyed having the students being back, even if in smaller numbers than in a typical year,” Hewitt said in an email. “We are glad that we can also contribute to this community by serving amazing coffee and with our outdoor seating still being a meeting place for the refugee and Bay Area community at large.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union location of 1951 Coffee will remain closed along with the rest of the building until further notice, according to Hewitt. The Rockridge location is also closed as of Aug. 21, but whether or not the closure is permanent has not been determined.
1951 Coffee’s free Barista Training Program is also temporarily suspended, according to Hewitt. Under normal circumstances, participants learn the fundamentals of brewing coffee, using an espresso machine and providing customer service.
Though the program is suspended, the organization has continued to support its current and past employees as well as Barista Training Program graduates with job placement and navigating benefit applications, Hewitt added.
With more than 200 graduates from 33 different countries, the program has helped many refugees and asylees navigate the American workplace.
“1951 brought me in and gave me a free t-shirt, they gave me a job, even though I didn’t speak English,” said barista Liebe Mehretab in an email. “1951 has given me power in my life. I am not looking at this as my job. I am looking at this as my home.”
Hewitt said 1951 Coffee strives to make successful refugee resettlement possible. According to barista Evelyn Solis, 1951 Coffee also aims to show its employees that it cares about them and believes in their dreams.
The company also works to educate the communities it serves about issues that refugees and asylees face.
“I want people to see what it is like for a refugee to come here,” Mehretab said in the email. “The more we know we will become stronger and have a better understanding of the world. These are the things you can learn at 1951 Coffee.”
1951 Coffee is open for business Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m, according to Hewitt.
Though the plan is to remain open for the remainder of the fall semester, this depends on community support, Hewitt added.