“If you’re going to have a cup of coffee anyway, why not have one that has an impact?”
That’s David Watson’s philosophy, anyway. And that’s exactly why he created JoyHouse Coffee Company: to provide a way for people around the nation to change lives simply by buying a cup of joy. I mean joe.
It all began in October 2016 when David and his wife Casey took their family on a mission trip to Haiti. While there, David met Jeremy & Katie Beehn + their six kiddos who had recently moved to Haiti from Northwest Arkansas. Jeremy’s vision: to create a community center that provided medical care, education, and job training + opportunities for Haitians.
One morning during his trip, David was sitting on a roof studying his Bible, a cup of coffee at hand. “This is a really good cup of coffee,” he remembers thinking, “and I’ve never heard of Haitian coffee.”
The idea of creating local jobs had resonated with David. He started wondering about the possibility of growing and exporting Haitian coffee as a means to create jobs - something for Jeremy to pursue, of course, but he’d offer to help with the groundwork.
Little did he know it then, but in that moment, the seed was planted that would soon sprout into JoyHouse Coffee Co.
Beginning the Grind
While in Haiti, David was shocked to learn that unemployment rate in Haiti was somewhere around 15 percent. “But what I found was, they were not a lazy people,” says David. “They wanted to work, there just wasn’t any.”
Intrigued by the statistics and Jeremy’s mission, David set to researching once he got home. He learned that Haiti actually used to be a top exporter of coffee, but time, natural disasters, and the way of the world had brought that to a halt.
He also learned that a portion of the population was actively pushing to revive Haiti’s coffee-roasting days. In fact, France already imports a steady stream of Haitian coffee for use in espressos.
Worthwhile product? Check. Solid mission + viable results? Check and check. Willing market? It definitely seemed likely.
David felt hopeful about the outlook and tried to convince himself that he had done his part by laying the groundwork for someone else to take over. His role, he figured, was for all intents and purposes over. Or at least, he hoped so.
“It was one of those things where I liked the thought of it, but I’d come to this point in my life where I was doing fine, I really didn’t want to be an entrepreneur again. I’d done some things like that in my past and I was not looking to step out and start a new business.
“So as I talked with everyone, I was really looking for people to stop it and tell me I was crazy. I couldn’t find anybody - and I was looking really hard!”
As pieces began to line up and people fell in love with the idea, David couldn’t shake the feeling that he was supposed to get involved, hands on and elbows deep, in turning this idea into reality.
Meant to bean
The last major obstacle left to climb was determining the viability of actually getting coffee out of Haiti and into the United States. “Haiti is a challenging country and I didn’t even know what all barriers we would have to deal with,” David says.
So he called up his pal Jeremy and asked him to arrange as many meetings as possible with coffee farmers and roasters down in Haiti.
He ended up scoring a meeting with the grandson of the owner of an organization that had been around since the 1800’s. David went in feeling a little under-qualified and with low expectations for the outcome.
“But it actually went the exact opposite.”
Turns out, the grandson had a heart for bringing back the coffee industry in Haiti and eagerly agreed to helping roast and to connect David with other local farmers and growers. When the conversation turned toward importing, the young man explained that he’d actually just gotten all his FDA permitting.
David left the meeting in awe. “A lot of these hurdles that I thought were going to be huge, wound up being solved. What was going to take probably 18 months to two years got shrunk down to a time frame of a few months.”
That was the summer of 2017. In October 2017, only a year after his initial trip and rooftop revelation, David flew to Haiti again for the roasting of JoyHouse Coffee Co.’s first batch of coffee.
These days, it’s common to hear about US-based roasters and coffee shops that work directly with foreign coffee farmers and pay wages at or above fair-trade. JoyHouse Coffee Co. has expanded on that process.
David explains, “We’ve learned that we can create way more jobs and have an even bigger impact growing AND roasting AND packaging it there, than we can here in the States.
“A roaster and a mechanized packer - that’s two or three people to roast a batch here. When we roast coffee in Haiti, we employ between 30 and 50 people. By the time we import it here, it’s not even that much more expensive, but the impact we have there is much bigger.”
During his travels in Haiti, David met other local artisans and realized even more ways to make an impact. That’s why you can also purchase merchandise through JoyHouse, like the coffee mugs carved out of rocks by a talented Haitian artist named Ronald, or handmade necklaces crafted by a team of Haitian women. The sale of a single necklace provides enough income to feed a single family for two weeks. Talk about an impact.
On top of creating job opportunities, JoyHouse Coffee Co. sends 50% of their proceeds straight back to Haiti to support on-the-ground non-profit organizations like JoyHouse, the coffee company’s eponym, and Leve Kanpe. These organizations’ outreach programs serve orphans, widows, churches, and other members of the community.
During his research, David learned that organizations like this “are largely self-funded and don’t receive funding from mission boards, churches or nonprofits. They spend three, four, five months a year fundraising just so they can be down there doing the work.
“I started thinking about what difference could it make if they didn’t have to worry about general funding? That’s where the idea came from to donate 50% back and not put any parameters around how they use it. They could use it for general funding to keep operations moving and continue to do the work they’re doing.”
David feels passionate about making sure these kind of organizations don’t pass away when the people running them do.
“That’s largely what what we’re doing is about: how do we make sure that those types of organizations are funded and continue to do good work regardless of what happens to me or anyone else who’s involved in it? We want to help them be sustainable through the years.”
“RISE UP, CHOOSE JOY”
Those already familiar with the coffee will recognize the names “JoyHouse” and “Leve Kampe” as the dark and medium roasts served at the coffee shop, in recognition of the organizations the company supports. Their slogan is actually derived from those two names as well: “Leve Kanpe” is French-Creole for “Rise Up.”
But for David, and the many other people behind JoyHouse Coffee Co., “Rise Up, Choose Joy” is more than just a clever play on words. It’s the big picture, a lesson learned, and a lifestyle.
“I joke that hopefully this will be so successful that one day I have to write a book about it. When I do, I’m going to call it Journey to Joy, because what I’ve learned through this process and what the Haitian people have taught me is that joy is a choice.”
David said people spend much of their lives pursuing things, jobs, money, thinking that’s where they’ll find joy. Meeting so many Haitians living in challenging circumstances yet still living joyfully made him reconsider where joy actually comes from.
“So that’s why we say “choose joy.” Hopefully we can spread that message and help a few more people choose joy even in really challenging days and circumstances.”
It’s easy to see JoyHouse Coffee Co. is dedicated to bringing change, hope, and joy to Haiti. When I asked David what kind of local impact he hopes to leave, he didn’t even have to pause before answering. He wants JoyHouse Coffee Co. to provide a way for YOU, Northwest Arkansas, to be a part of that change and make a difference, too.
“Not everybody has an opportunity to go to Haiti like I did, but everybody does have the opportunity and the ability to make a difference with a cup of coffee. That’s what I want to give people a chance to do.”
“We want to create a place where people can come, feel like they’re at home, feel like they’re part of the family, and join in our mission. And we don’t think of it as just ours; we think of it as the community’s mission, because it only works if we have a whole lot of people come along with us and embrace it.”
If you’re ready to embrace JoyHouse Coffee Co.’s mission, you’ve now got DOUBLE the opportunity: they’re opening a second location in November!
Who knew supporting your local economy could have a global impact? Just one of many perks to choosing local! Discover even more perks on the free Towny app, a local-only guide that helps you explore Northwest Arkansas and rewards you for shopping local! Not into apps? Check out the perk-aliciousness here!