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For Michael Amouri, owner of Caffe Amouri in Vienna, Virginia, small changes can make a big difference. And whether its sourcing the best coffee beans, reducing the use of plastics, or helping the local community—his café is doing its part.
“I’m nothing special, I’m just a normal sort of guy. But if a bunch of normal guys get together and decide to do it, maybe it can make a difference,” Amouri says.
Amouri adds that the foundation of everything his business does is built on its mission statement which is focused on four points: quality, community, sustainability, and knowledge. That mission comes through in his emphasis on sourcing quality coffee from suppliers he trusts.
Amouri maintains direct relationships with growers in Rwanda, Colombia, and Nicaragua—and the benefits from those relationships are two-fold. Customers of Caffe Amouri get an elevated, quality product, and the local communities overseas benefit. For example, their partnership with Paisa Coffee in Colombia circulates money back into local communities.
“I know that by working with them, this money is going back into the pockets of farmers, of farms, of the pickers, of workers. I want to do more and more direct trade,” Amouri says. “We’re probably paying more than some of our competitors, but that’s O.K. I’m getting some kick-ass beans.”
As part of its wider sustainability efforts, Caffe Amouri has a goal to be 100% plastic-free in all its packaging. This includes using compostable corn to-go cups and lids. It also means the business is in the process of transitioning from plastic to compostable straws and that it is using washable, reusable ceramic mugs and flatware for in-house service. The café offers paper bags—not plastic—for takeout, leaves used coffee grounds outside for the community to take and use as compost, and has its own recycling-specific dumpster.
All these things come at a cost, but Amouri doesn’t mind.
“I have never maximized profits—no. But we have been in business for 11 years in an industry where coffee shops come and go. We have a long-term strategy of slower growth by maintaining those things that are important to us,” Amouri says. “I could have made more dollars in any single year by not training my staff so stringently. All that money would have gone right into my pocket, but for me, I needed to do that.”
Caffe Amouri is also an integral part of its local community—and has found ways to give back. The café sponsors “Walk to School Wednesdays” in which it offers free coffee to parents who walk their elementary-age kids to school on that day. They give away a lot of free coffee as part of the program. When asked, “Why?” Amouri has a simple answer.
“We don’t do it because it brings us business, but you know that every one of those parents that walks away with your coffee, with your sleeve on the cup, feels pretty good about your business,” Amouri says.
The café has also helped to raise approximately $100,000 over eight years as part of Vienna Idol, a music competition to showcase local talent and raise money for the Khristin Kyllo Memorial Fund. Those funds have helped more than 12 scholarship recipients go to college.
“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” Amouri says.
Today, Amouri is focusing on the fourth pillar of the mission: knowledge. Through on-the-job training and coffee roasting clinics, the café is helping educate and kickstart the careers of the next generation of baristas, managers, and coffee roasters. In fact, the café is one of only 40 certified Coffee Campuses in the U.S. He is also focusing on educating the public about how important it is to have a sustainable supply chain to ensure superior coffee beans and, ultimately, better cup of coffee.
He likes to think some larger companies—inside the coffee industry and out—might have something to learn from his business.
“I’ve long felt that our business model is a model that you could transpose from a small business to a Fortune 500 company,” Amouri says.