While Cierra Luna loves problem solving, she worried about disappointing customers on Tuesday when their espresso machine wouldn’t get up to temperature. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
While Californians were grateful for the recent rain, the deluge shorted the equipment for a non-profit Fresno coffee house. But it was soon they who were grateful for the outpouring of support they received from other local brewers to keep their company running.
On Tuesday morning, when Lighthouse Recovery Director Vikki Luna flipped on the breakers to begin the day at Cornerstone Coffee in Downtown Fresno, flickering lights and a broken grinder clued her in that something was wrong.
The storm had shorted the electricity in the building adjacent to Cornerstone Church on Fulton Street.
They had to get their espresso machine warmed up to be able to sell to customers, so Luna began making calls. The first was to an electrician, and the second was to Bryan Feil of Lanna Coffee Co., whose coffee they sell.
Over at Cornerstone Coffee, the women who were work there – for work experience or as part of recovery from substance abuse – pull shots for the lattes and cappuccinos from an espresso machine gifted to them by Brent and Genesis Wilson of Dutch Bros Coffee.
They found that the espresso machine they rely on wasn’t getting hot.
That was when Feil got a message from Luna asking for help. Within 15 minutes he was there with bottles of liquid espresso, a milk frother and a steamer to work as a substitute for espresso in the popular blended drinks, as well as cappuccinos and frappuccinos.
“The cafe culture is you can have new customers come in all day,” Feil said. “You don’t want their first experience to be one of not being able to get a drink they want.”
Feil wanted to make sure they could be up and running without skipping a beat.
“As a small nonprofit, they have very little means,” Feil said. “Keeping revenue coming in is important. Two or three days of lost business can be huge for a small organization.”
Lanna Coffee Co. just recently began offering the espresso substitute package, which allows organizations or companies who want to serve espresso drinks without investing in a commercial espresso machine, which can begin around $5,000, Luna said.
While they had a Band-Aid for their troubles, they knew it wouldn’t last forever, and so Luna spent all Tuesday calling service companies for help with their broken espresso machine. They hadn’t gotten any calls back though.
Luna isn’t used to dealing with the day-to-day problems of running a coffee business. Cornerstone Coffee is only one of the functions of the Lighthouse Recovery Program she started back in 2007.
Since then, Cornerstone Church has let the organization use the building to sell their coffee and sandwiches. And while the church retains ownership of the building, they don’t charge rent, so Luna can direct the profits right back into the program.
It’s meant to act as a sort-of work-experience therapy to overcome anxieties and build resumes, said Luna. The women who work there either live at the recovery house or come from welfare-to-work programs.
Cornerstone Coffee is one of two social enterprises, the other being an apparel company called Light-WEAR. They sell coffee mugs, clothing and jewelry at Luna’s speaking events, and some clothing companies around Fresno sell their products.
But the ultimate goal is to provide women with retail, janitorial and office skills to find careers and reconnect with their families.
There are even a few of the women who have gotten job offers from customers at the coffee shop. A barista who acquired experience from Cornerstone later went on to work at Dutch Bros. It was from her that Genesis and Brent Wilson learned about the program.
But dealing with coffee problems isn’t what Luna wants to spend her day doing.
“This has been a great business to help make a social impact,” said Luna. “But I’m not the giant or the coffee guru.”
So on Wednesday, Luna decided to contact Genesis Wilson at Dutch Bros., which has their headquarters in Downtown Fresno. She was hesitant to do so at first because it was only a couple years ago that they had gifted the espresso machine to them in the first place.
Genesis, who is co-owner of the local Dutch Bros. franchise with her husband, said Luna was originally just seeking advice.
But that day, Brent came over with a team and spent the entire day with Luna, looking at the machine. They decided it was going to be more than a quick fix.
The team at Dutch Bros. took their old espresso machine to service and left Cornerstone with another machine in the meantime. As a nonprofit, Luna doesn’t know how they would be able to afford an espresso machine without the help of companies like Dutch Bros.
Looking online, the one lent to them can cost $20,000, Luna said.
“What Vikki is doing, she’s benefiting so many people it trickles down,” Genesis said. “Us sharing that ability, we get to be a part of that.”