Good Earth Coffeehouse

Community conscious coffee

Sometimes it is the simple things. Coffeehouse culture has a long history in North America, and Good Earth Coffeehouses have been a part of that in Canada for nearly two decades. What began as a plan for one community coffeehouse grew into a successful franchise of more than 30 stores across Western Canada.

This month, The Canadian Business Journal explores the philosophy of this coffee connoisseur.

“It’s been nearly 20 years,” reflects owner Nan Eskenazi. “My husband and I founded the business here in 1991 in Calgary and I am sure it really just came out of our lifestyle and our experiences, and what we enjoyed—but what just couldn’t be found in Calgary at the time. And that was something that was essentially a coffeehouse. Not a restaurant, not a doughnut shop, but a coffeehouse. A place that is a meeting point for the community and that has really exceptional coffee.”

Successful expansion

When Good Earth started, coffeehouses were not so common, so Eskenazi and husband Michael Going began their plans to fill that void.

“I had been in the coffee business in Seattle before I moved to Canada, so we started our little café,” Eskenazi said. That ‘little café’ has grown into a substantial accomplishment and, about five years ago, Eskenazi and her husband began franchising. “We really moved the business model into a place where we could expand and open more coffeehouses in more markets. We have 30 open at the moment, six more opening this year, and we have a number of plans to continue expanding,” says Eskenazi. “We will be opening in Victoria, B.C., and we’re taking the time right now to really examine the Ontario market.”

In a market saturated with coffee products, there must be something that differentiates Good Earth Coffeehouses from the crowd. What does Eskenazi think is the secret? Well, quite simply, the answer lies in good, wholesome quality products—great coffee and really good food. “We do all the recipe development ourselves and have a really wonderful array of food that is not bulk purchased. Our food is made to suit all different needs and through all different meal times.” The foods, which include homemade fresh hearty soups, goods baked in-house, and fresh salads and sandwiches, are a far cry from the packaged fare commonly found at coffee bars.

The coffee connection

It is coffee, however, that is the heart and soul of Good Earth, and a likely reason that customers continually return. “I think now for a lot of coffee drinkers and espresso drinkers it is no longer just a commodity or convenience product. They are not just popping into the convenience store or the doughnut shop, they are really focused on the cup characteristics.” Good Earth places a lot of importance on selecting the right beans, from the right places, so customers can enjoy a great cup of coffee.

The coffee served at Good Earth is the product of important direct trade relationships. “Our coffee roasters here in Canada have really facilitated that and enabled us to work and communicate directly with particular farmers,” says Eskenazi. Speaking fondly of the experience, she and company COO, Gerry Docherty, had the opportunity to visit Central America last year. “We went to the farms we deal with in Nicaragua and Guatemala to see their crops, and we got to see what the farming community is like and what farmers and their workers are doing in terms of social and environmental programs.  So it’s just been a wonderful experience to be able to move our coffee to a better place and support what’s going on in all their communities.”

That awareness of community and the environment is an important part of the business philosophy that has kept Good Earth strong. “You know, it’s funny, [green initiatives] have always been a part of our business since we wrote our mission in the summer of 1991, and it is has always been part of our mission to be socially and environmentally responsible,” explains Eskenazi. “What it means to be environmentally responsible has obviously grown and changed and become increasingly complex, but we have remained true to our original philosophy. We want to make decisions within our business model that take into account sound environmental practices.”

Good Earth has consistently proven to be one of the first businesses on board when a new, sustainable idea is available. Just recently, Good Earth has changed all of its cups to compostable material and will follow shortly with all of its lids, cutlery, and containers. Another point of pride for Good Earth is that all facilities are 100 per cent green energy powered via windpower, by way of a company called Bullfrog Power. The basic idea of the program is that units of power are purchased in exchange for equal units of wind power to be used in the regional community. All of these small things add up to the overall philosophy of the business.

A community coffeehouse has a feeling which has largely been lost in most places.

“We try to create an environment where people are meeting and building relationships not just coming in and consuming something and leaving That’s really what coffeehouses are all about,” says Eskenazi. “And we’ve lasted 20 years.”