At Purple Door Coffee in Denver, Colorado, the beloved brewed beverage is more than just a caffeine kick; it is a catalyst that helps transform the lives of young people. Purple Door Coffee has helped homeless youth transition from life on the streets to meaningful employment via job training at their coffee shop and—more recently—in their roasting operation. Their name comes from a central belief within their mission; the color purple, they write, is often associated with royalty, but—as a faith-based organization— they believe everyone is royalty, as the true king lives inside us all, and we thus possess innate value worthy of opportunity, love, and kindness. His door is always open. Hence, the name Purple Door Coffee.
A Mission for Every Machine — The San Franciscan Roaster at Work
Every day, across the nation—and across the world— the San Franciscan Roaster Company’s hand-crafted machine transforms a batch of coffee beans through the delicate alchemy of the roasting process. Our coffee roasters are built with quality workmanship and superior engineering because we know that every machine has a mission in the world. It’s why we love to hear of how our roasters play a role in the lives of others and contribute to a larger story, one machine, one roast, one coffee batch at a time.
Who is Purple Door Coffee?
We talked to Mark Smesrud, executive director and head roaster of Purple Door Coffee. They are a non-profit that started with Dry Bones, an organization whose focus is to lift the unmet needs of the Street Kids in Denver. According to Smesrud, it is estimated that there are 1,500 youth and young adults out on the streets of the city. For many years, Purple Door hired homeless youth and integrated them into work by teaching them important skills at the shop and transitioning them out into meaningful employment and a better life. In May 2019, Purple Door closed the doors to their coffee shop and shifted to a roasting operation only, where they would be able to employ more homeless youth and expand the scope of their mission.
Growing Through Coffee
Their success rate at training these young people reached extraordinary heights.
As Mark himself asserted, “We’ve been able to have a success rate of 60% of people completing our program and going on to permanent employment.”
Their website highlights just a few of the people that have grown through the program. One is now their shift manager, Savedra, a young woman who lost her parents as a kid, grew up on the streets, conquered her addiction and emerged on the other side with a renewed sense of purpose. Then there was David, who spent six years on the street until he walked through the doors, reclaimed his life, and found meaning in the art of making and serving coffee. Throughout a typical year, Purple Door trains a dozen or so employees, bringing in new people in cycles and using peer mentoring and training.
When asked why they chose coffee as the heart of their enterprise, Mark laughed and told us about his mistaken idea that a coffee business was an easy business to run. He then added on a serious note, “Some of the values of coffee are that it is a community builder, and so we were able to build community around what we do. The coffee shop setting itself teaches a variety of skills.”
The roasting aspect, he explained, came a little later and not only improved their profit margin but allowed them to break into specialty coffee territory, where the attention to quality creates another layer of learning potential. The profound potential of the roasting process began what would be their eventual and complete focus on roasting.
“They [SFR] have been a great company to work with,” said Smesrud. “And the roasting operation is what has really allowed us to create new vision and move forward in new directions and create new opportunities.”
The Journey To Roasting — Finding the San Franciscan
As the head roaster, Mark had to learn the craft in order to elevate his coffee shop. “I started learning just on a little Huky 500 and went up to Cafe Imports to do more training. There was a lot of research and trial and error, but we decided to go all in with it...I’m kind of self-taught, other than that one class and even when I asked everyone at Cafe Imports what roaster they’d recommend they all said the San Franciscan.”
Essentially that’s how the SF-25 ended up behind the scenes at Purple Door. Purple Door roasts a variety of blends including their Opportunity Blend and their Empower Espresso Blend, which they sell throughout the community to churches, offices and other events. Most of the young people who have worked at Purple Door in the past assisted with the roasting operation and worked behind the scenes before moving to the cafe setting to finish their training. Their new model will have more people helping with roasting and distribution.
“The overall quality of the build makes it a very responsive machine, so when I make an adjustment to the gas, it adjusts consistently every time,” says Smesrud. “The San Franciscan airflow is so easy to adjust and consistent, when I do it from week to week it means the same thing. It’s also a very beautiful machine.”
Over the past two years, Mark has improved his roasting skills on the SF-25 and has come to appreciate the creativity and control allowed with the roaster. “They don’t over complicate it with technology— though it can be compatible with the appropriate technology— but airflow is simple to control and that’s a big one because a lot of machines have over-complicated airflow adjustments.”
As the roasting becomes a bigger part of the shop, it opens new doors. “It has actually been the roaster that has created a lot more financial stability and opportunity. We went with the San Franciscan because we chatted with a lot of our industry friends and I asked them if you could choose one roaster what would you choose? By and large, the majority said the San Franciscan.”
The Specialty Coffee Industry & Its Possibilities
The specialty coffee industry has grown into an international phenomenon that spans across nations. Central to it, of course, are issues of ethical farming practices, the craft of roasting, and the culture cultivated around its production and enjoyment. The San Franciscan Roaster Company embraces the specialty coffee community as a big family. Yet, far removed from the conferences, tastings, Specialty Coffee Expo, and the fashionable hipsters, there are people living the coffee life in their own way. Purple Door Coffee embodies the inherent values of the specialty coffee community through their unique mission.
We are always amazed at the reach of the coffee community. This love of coffee exists in every corner of the world, from the grandmother roasting in her kitchen to roast masters in coffee shops throughout the nation’s biggest cities and smaller towns, to shops like Purple Door— whose mission goes beyond great coffee and aims to live the principles of Christianity.
The Power of the Roast — Tackling Giants With Love, Coffee, & Work
At Purple Door Coffee, the doors open to more than just a specialty coffee roasting operation. They also open to faith, opportunity, and a second chance. Everywhere in America, there are lighthouses for those who’ve found themselves too long in darkness, and Purple Door Coffee works to provide much-needed illumination—and coffee—to the streets of Denver.
The San Franciscan Roaster Company’s mission is to craft a beautiful machine that promotes the creativity and skill of the roast master. From there, the wonders of coffee with the strength of the human heart and love’s transformative powers, the seemingly insurmountable could, truly, be conquered.