Question: What was the inspiration behind your new “Knock it Off” Stay at Home Brew, which is named after Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo’s message for social distancing scofflaws?
Answer: With zero income coming in and a ton of bills piling up, my plans to get involved with a fundraising effort seemed slim to none. That all changed one Sunday a few weeks ago. After the Sunday curbside pickups at the shop were finished, a customer pulled up on his bike. He approached me with his credit card in hand. I told him I had nothing left to sell, but he persisted, saying, “I just want to give you $100.” I couldn’t accept it. He got back on his bike, and as he rode off he said, “This is what we do now: We help each other out.”
Two days later, right after arguing with the electric company over a $650 bill, I found a check for $100 in the mailbox. This kind gesture made me realize that this is what we do now: We help each other out!
Q: How many orders have you received so far, and how much of the proceeds will go to the Rhode Island Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund?
A: I posted on my Instagram @whiteelectriccoffee at 5 a.m. Monday (April 27) — I’m not sleeping much these days — and within a few hours we had 100 orders. I saw this on my phone while redesigning White Electric for when we open. I started to get nervous, so I went home and by the time I got there we had 135 orders. Three days later, we had more than 250 orders.
Twenty percent of the “Stay at Home Brew” will go directly to the Rhode Island Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund — supporting our food pantries and nonprofits to provide direct assistance to the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders.
Q: How long has your business been around, and what is it like for those who aren’t familiar with it?
A: White Electric Coffee will be 20 years old this August. I just got emotional thinking about that! We had to apply for a business loan in order to buy the space on the West Side of Providence. I remember the Providence Small Business Administration board of directors saying, “That side of town really needs something like this,” and they gave me the loan. I ran with that.
White Electric is a place where local art hangs on the walls, music picked by employees is playing, and our tin walls from the early 1900s are littered with local event posters. The 100-year-old wooden floors set the stage for the industrial salvage design.
The menu is a mix of the best local bakeries, bagel shops, and freshest daily produce. Our farm-raised Special Turkey sandwich and White Electric Salad are the top sellers. We get our custom blended coffee from New Harvest Coffee Roasters, a local roastery five minutes down the road.
Q: What kind of coffee is in the “Knock it Off” Stay at Home Brew?
A: This new coffee is a medium blend from Guatemala. Not only does it have maple, molasses, and chocolate flavors, but it also has a great story behind where it comes from: The coffee originates from the La Vox Cooperativa in Guatemala, and here are some quick reasons why it’s so special: 61 of the 161 managers are women; the farm is owned by 30 local families; it’s 100 percent certified organic; it’s grown in fertile volcanic soils under native trees that provide a home to a diversity of migratory bird species; and the cooperative also just added a health care program for all its members — unheard of for coffee farmers.
Q: How will coffee shops survive going forward — how do you envision them adapting to social distancing restrictions and to customer concerns about the coronavirus?
A: My plan is to own it! I mean own the situation. We’re going to reopen while the virus is still out there with no treatment. My shop will be the safest possible. I’ve already built the front counter to resemble an old bank with a glass partition and a teller station. I’m also going to partition the center of the shop to direct traffic flow and ensure a natural social distance.
The design needs to be classy and clean, and the safety measures will be built in organically so that the customers feel comfortable and safe. There will be no tables or chairs for the foreseeable future, but I still want it to have the same vibe as before. It will!
A: Asher and I have been friends for a long time. When he suggested I join the “Knock it Off” collaboration, I immediately called my local roaster, New Harvest, to see what options I would have for a great new coffee to add to my menu.
Asher is delivering “Knock it Off” T-shirts to people’s doorsteps, using a bullhorn and playing music as he tosses the T-shirts from a safe distance. So I just sent him a text saying, “You need a T-shirt cannon.” He replied with a funny clip of a guy shooting T-shirts, but I was serious. So on Thursday, after my son’s internet home schooling, we went to the garage and built a T-shirt/coffee cannon. I didn’t realize a pound of coffee could catch on fire!
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com