Since 2014, Compass Coffee has been a growing centerpiece of the Washington, D.C. community. For many, it’s where you grab your morning cup of joe and a snack to fuel you for the day. For others, it’s a place to meet with friends and colleagues while enjoying an afternoon pick-me-up.
But in mid-March, the District’s order to close all in-person dining due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic brought business as usual to a halt.
“It was eerie,” said Kuran Malhotra, Director of Corporate Development at Compass Coffee. “One day, I was sitting in our Georgetown café chatting with a few regulars, and the next, we had the tables and chairs stacked, along with signs reminding people to stay six feet apart.”
Common Grounds Events
Most Compass Coffee locations are nestled among downtown office buildings, catering to the 9-5 commuters bustling into the city for the day. With customers working from home amid stay-at-home orders, business was down nearly 80%, and the company closed half of their 12 locations for several months, according to co-owner Michael Haft in an interview with Voices of America.
“We have thousands of customers who come in each day. COVID-19 has been devastating,” Haft said.
But that didn’t stop Haft and co-owner Harrison Suarez from seeing the closures as an opportunity to serve the community in a new way.
In addition to serving up coffee and lattes, the company bottles up their coffee flavorings, called Simple Syrups, for their customers to enjoy. As a result, they have built up a sophisticated bottling operation, complete with automated filling and brewing equipment.
Shortly after lockdown orders began, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reached out to Compass Coffee about a shortage of hand sanitizer. By March 15, the company had shifted its bottling operations to start making hand sanitizer and had delivered 1,000 gallons of sanitizer for the D.C. government for their first big order.
Compass Coffee began producing and packaging about 2,400 bottles of hand sanitizer a day for local and national orders.
“Hand sanitizer is 100% keeping Compass afloat,” Haft said in May.
The shift to producing Simple Sanitizer was a pivotal moment for the small business struggling to survive amid the pandemic. With the pandemic forcing Compass to cut its workforce significantly, the team that worked on Simple Sanitizer was incredibly small.
“It was a deep cut to the bone,” said Haft, “but we’re committed to rebuilding in the way that is best for our teams, customers, and community alike.”
Serving Overseas to Serving a Community
Haft and Suarez are both former U.S. Marines, and their relationship with coffee evolved from downing dollar cups to get through training sessions in Afghanistan, to building and investing in machinery to produce coffee from the highest quality beans, and eventually starting Compass Coffee in 2014.
Haft and Suarez say they are proud to be serving the community in a time of need, just as they served their country, and they understand the role their business plays helping hardworking Washingtonians through a time of great fear and uncertainty.
“Like so many other businesses, we’ve completely had to change our plans and we’ve completely had to modify the way that we think about what we do and the role that we play in the community,” Suarez said.