If you’ve spent a lot of time pedaling along the Twin Cities’ Greenway Bike Trail, you might have smelled the rich, caramel scent of a local coffee company finishing up another batch of freshly roasted beans. That’s because Minneapolis favorite, Peace Coffee Co., is perched right on this bicycle highway, and every day they are hard at work keeping their neighbors caffeinated. Some people might not know that their good work goes far beyond fighting Monday morning meetings. Peace Coffee was founded in 1995 as a force for good, and they continue to uplift their communities and brighten the lives of coffee drinkers, coffee farmers, and anyone who just happens to be passing by.
Even before Peace Coffee could afford their own roasting machine, they delivered their freshly roasted 100% organic and fair trade coffee beans by bicycle. These brave coffee pedalers can be seen riding around the Twin Cities through rain, sleet, snow, and anything else midwestern weather can throw at them. Towing bright red custom trailers made by Bikes for Work, their small fleet of cyclists individually haul over 2500 pounds of freshly roasted coffee roughly 70 miles each week. The Peace Coffee cyclists ride every weekday, and each trailer can hold about 400 lbs of coffee. That’s like towing a piano!
Lee Wallace, Owner, CEO, and Queen Bee of Peace Coffee, shared in an interview with The Business Download, “It’s such a great way for us to model a more environmentally friendly way of delivering coffee and how you can build a business that you know takes the environment and sustainability into consideration, even as you scale.” Next time you see them gearing up for that big hill, be sure to give them a wave and a word of encouragement. There are few causes less noble than keeping people caffeinated.
Speaking of noble causes, they are nothing new to Peace Coffee. The company was founded by the non-profit organization, The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). During a trip to the famous coffee growing region of Chiapas, Mexico, in the late 1980s, IATP began work with local farmers to “partner and advocate for long-term systemic change and, ultimately, commodity-farmer profitability.” After sharing several mugs of rich, warm coffee with farmers of Chiapas, the IATP decided to partner up and bring farmers’ coffee to the people of Minneapolis, Minnesota. By the mid-1990s Peace Coffee came into existence and brought direct trade, organic coffee to the people of Minnesota.
Over 25 years ago, words like fair trade and direct trade weren’t applied to coffee, and the farmers in developing nations were struggling to feed their families. So, Peace Coffee formed to grow the coffee business and pay farmers a living wage. “Peace Coffee was born out of that idea that you could build a supply chain that was sustainable for farmers and recognized the real costs of the products those farmers produced,” Lee Wallace said.
As Peace Coffee grew, they expanded their relationships with small-scale coffee farmers in several countries, and they co-founded Coop Coffees, a coffee importing cooperative that’s grown to include 23 roasters across the United States. The mission of Coop Coffees is to build and support fair trade relationships that benefit coffee farmers and their families. “We definitely view farmers as stakeholders in the business, and as they’re building their businesses we’re building our businesses,” Lee said. “In the 14 years I’ve been involved in the coffee industry, I’ve seen coffee cooperatives in coffee-growing communities scale just as much as the roasters in North America. They’re becoming more complicated businesses themselves.”
In 2018, the IATP began looking for someone to buy Peace Coffee. They felt Peace Coffee could do more good in the global community as an independent entity, so Lee Wallace, who had been running the show for twelve years, made an offer. “It was realizing this business could have even more impact. We can scale– we can continue to grow the business.” Lee shared, “I just knew that I wasn’t done growing Peace Coffee and growing its impact.” They got right to work expanding the operation and growing their mission. The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal named Lee the 2020 Women in Business Honoree for her socially conscious-efforts. Lee commented, “You know I’m getting recognized, yes, but I have a wonderful team of people who have built the business alongside me, so in my mind, it’s just as much a recognition of all these other people’s effort as it is mine.”
After making the decision to close their cafés so they can focus fully on wholesale, Peace Coffee partnered with Wildflyer to advise the smaller Minneapolis coffee company. Wildflyer is opening up their first shop in Peace Coffee’s former Wonderland location, and Peace Coffee will offer training and organizational support. Wildflyer is another specialty coffee company committed to serving the community. They employ homeless youth and provide them with some comfort and stability in these especially uncertain times. “The opportunity to put another mission-based coffee company inside that coffee shop and hand that community, which has supported us for 10 years, over to Wildflyer just seems like such a great fit.” Lee shared, “I think the neighborhood will really love and embrace Wildflyer as they spread their wings and settle into their new, more permanent home.” From developing a mutually beneficial business relationship with their coffee farmers, investing in the place they call home, and advising their local entrepreneurs, Peace Coffee is in business for the betterment of the community.