Whew, August is going too fast. We need a cup of coffee so this week our industry focus is coffee in our Campaign For New B's, a campaign to support and grow the B Corp movement in Philadelphia.
Our next B Corp Pioneer this week is Mugshots Coffeehouse in Fairmount. We sat down with Angie Vendetti, the founder of Mugshots, to talk about the conscience of business, the triple bottom line, and being ahead of the curve.
What sets your coffeehouse apart from others?
Well I think we started pretty early on in the coffee boom of Philadelphia. We introduced ourselves to Green Line in West Philly, Infusion in Mt. Airy was already open, and Joe from Philly fair trade coffee had a shop on Walnut Street and they were all serving fair trade coffee. We went to them to see what they were doing, “Hey let me pick your brain! Is this something we really want to do?” and we decided that it was. They were doing pretty well with a similar philosophy as all fair trade coffee shops. What sets us apart from them I think is that our food menu is more substantial. Part of the reason for that is my interest in food and cooking but also the local food movement. Connecting with Fair Food and realizing that there’s this whole network of farmers that we have access to in Philadelphia: how lucky are we that we can do this? We can't do this just anywhere in the country--this is pretty special. We went to the Social Venture Institute back in 2002 and heard Judy wicks speak and of course if you've ever heard her speak she's very inspiring. You think, “Oh, I can totally do this. Wouldn’t it be great to feel good about what you're doing all day long?”
Rooted in our business plan was the philosophy of fair and local first, being a community gathering place; being thoughtful and mindful of all of our actions and purchases, our impact on the environment, on our community, and on our vendors and suppliers; making sure that we're supporting vendors who have the same philosophy, but especially making sure the farmers who are outside of the country are being treated fairly and getting paid a fair price for their crops. It was an interesting business to get into to affect change on all of those things, you know?
And getting the message out that, businesses should have a conscience. They don't, but they should, and they can and still be successful.
What inspired you to make your business responsible?
It wasn't even a question. In other words, I feel like that came first and executing it through a coffee shop environment is just kind of what the opportunity was at the time for this neighborhood. And I would apply the same values to any other business that I got involved with. In other words, it's personal and it should be: a business is made up with people, with consciences and they should care about their impact.
The most rewarding part of running a business:
We’ve definitely got a lot of press around being a B Corp, like you said, the article in Market Street Magazine was really cool. So knowing that I have that impact, I get contacted all the time by students, by other people who want to open a green business, or you know a triple bottom line business, and [they want to know] how to do it, even just for contacts in the industry. So I feel like I've definitely made an impact and have helped other people do the right thing. On top of that I like working for myself. The thought of working for someone else... I used to produce pharmaceutical sales training programs, so...
The most challenging part of running a responsible business:
[People] ask me about the triple bottom-line. You know, all three are important, you can't do anything for people and planet if you don't have the profit, so making sure that you’re balancing the three. You can't do everything all at once. You have to start out with what you know you can do, and eventually you'll get there. We started out with 10% clean energy and then went to 100% (for example).
One of the biggest challenges for me was relocating this business. It's a much different business now. I had to take away employee benefits that were in place that I can't afford to offer anymore, so that was kind of a bummer. On the upside, I was able to redesign the space so it runs much more efficiently. I think it’s a better place to work in, and certainly easier to run.
Working with small farmers, sometimes you end up dealing with more vendors than you would otherwise, and that can be difficult to manage.
Another challenge is getting your employees to “drink the Kool-Aid,” so to speak. Some people are really in tune with our mission, and I find that out in the job application and through the interview. Some people aren't, but I feel great about bringing them on board and teaching them about it. So, I’ve hired through different programs, like the Way to Work program.. These folks are typically less educated around food politics, environmental and social impact. I just think it's awesome to see how far they've come in changing their diets, or their habits around waste, like using cups for here when they’re here instead of constantly having a cup with a straw. That can feel good.
Spreading the message outside--sometimes, I feel like I'm preaching to the choir, you know? Even if I had the B Corp sticker on the door people would be walking by going, “what is that?” I think that’s a good first step toward marketing, but just the recognition of the logo is hard. I have it on my website, it's on my menus, it's printed on various things, and few people know what it means. Getting people to not only recognize it but to want to patronize a place because of it those are two different things. A lot of people are just so much about convenience that they won't go out of their way, even if it's just a block and a half, to support the business that is doing the right thing and trying to make a positive impact. So, that's a challenge: really trying to get people to understand what you're doing and to support you. Because every person counts and everyone can make a difference by voting with their dollars.
How was the B Corp certification helped your business?
In terms of networking and connecting with other folks and being present at events. It's important, I feel like it's a huge part of my brand to certain people, you know? To the industry, it’s like, “Well of course, in Philadelphia, Mugshots would be there.” To everyone else, it’s kinda like, “what?”
I've been to networking events, I was using Clean Currents for energy, who was a certified B Corp. Now, I buy 100% clean energy from another [former] B Corp called Oasis Energy. I feel like in a professional services business, it might be a lot more valuable, where as mine is just so local that I have to use what's around me in terms of vendors.
Certainly the tax break in Philadelphia is awesome—up to $4,000/year toward BPT.
How can it help other businesses in this industry?
I think it certainly gives you something to measure yourself against and I know that B Lab is trying to just get people to take the assessment and see where they fall, not even to pass. The fact that they help you make small changes to get there I think is really great. They’ll coach you into making small changes that will get you the score to become certified and certainly there are other things that you can then work towards to improve your score. [For] someone who wants to run their business sustainably, connecting with other B Corps is probably a good idea, a good place to start.
(Pssst... have you heard about our Collective Happy Hour this Wednesday at the PHS Pop Up Garden? It's for people passionate about sustainable business and B Corps!)
Any events that we should know about that we can promote?
We just celebrated our 10 year anniversary. We're launching a new food and drink menu in September. There’s going to be a new green smoothie, new specialty drinks, and the menu is going to be formatted pretty differently. Instead of it just being all breakfast sandwiches, we’ll have some platter type options for breakfast: still a lot of gluten-free and vegan options, but also, whole-food options. In some menu items, we're not using sugar, we’re using maple syrup to sweeten things. And then we’re reducing the amount of sandwiches and doing more salads, whole grain salads, and flatbreads. So, we’re pretty excited about that. We’re probably going to do a tasting at the beginning of September, so follow us on Facebook to find out when!
How would you describe B Corps in 3 words?
Socially-responsible. Environmentally-responsible. Compassionate.
What's your Philly treat of choice?
The veggie wings at Fergie’s
Talking about coffee (while drinking a large coffee) has gotten us really buzzed about getting some more coffee-related B Corps in Philly. Remember to tweet at us with your favorite, tweet at them, post your Instagram pictures, and more! We want to hear from you!