Girls Who Grind Coffee
Posted on November 14 2018
This week, we had the pleasure of catching up with Girls Who Grind Coffee founders - Melbourne born and bred Fi O'Brien, ex-café owner and creative, and expert coffee roaster and upstate New Yorker Casey Lalonde.
Now both settled in Frome in Somerset, England - these women are hand-roasting their own speciality coffee whilst empowering other women all over the world. Here's their inspiring story:
Bardega: can you tell us a bit about your background, what were you like growing up, how would your family describe you?
Fi: I’m a Melbourne girl born and bred. No matter where I am in the world I still call Melbourne my home - the pace of the city and its love for cafes, art culture and multiculturalism runs through my veins.
I began my career as a Creative Strategist in advertising agencies, leaving that behind to open up my own cafe. Since moving to the UK twelve years ago, my career has swayed between design and cafe management. My family would describe me as fiercely independent and a bit of a joker, oh... and with some killer dance moves ;)
Casey: I’m from a small town in Upstate New York. I grew up riding horses and hiking mountains, I’m a country girl at heart. I began my career in coffee roasting in a coffee lab in Vermont, and that is where my passion for roasting blossomed. My family would describe me as a bit of a hippy with an argumentative side!
Bardega: How did you two meet and how did the idea to start a business together come about?
Fi: We’re both married to British men and both ended up living in what is now our hometown of Frome - a super creative and independent little town in Somerset. We both have young children and crossed paths at our local baby yoga class, as you do.. haha. We got waxing lyrical about our crazy love for coffee and the industry that surrounds it. Casey had been dreaming of having her own roastery for 10 years, but was waiting for the right time after having her two girls. We both had the yearning to do our own thing and we realised that our skills perfectly complimented each other - Casey’s impeccable roasting knowledge and my creativity and cafe background meant that we had the ideal skill set to start our own business, together!
Bardega: Your Business Girls Who Grind Coffee is all about supporting women in coffee, how did you come up with this idea and why was it important to support female producers?
Casey: During our time working in various cafes / roasteries we really noticed the imbalance of men to women. We noticed women struggling to have the confidence in their own important set of skills which they bring to the table. And we wanted to create more equality which is needed across the board in all businesses/life!
Fi had the idea of the phrase ‘Girls Who Grind Coffee’ a couple years back but never found the right opportunity to utilise it so when we had the idea for our business it seemed the ultimate fit. "Girls Who Grind Coffee" - our very own all-female coffee roastery, empowering and supporting other women within the industry.
We have worked with so many amazing, awe-awe-inspiring women, but our latest coffee from El Salvador is really special to us as it is our first direct trade/relationship coffee that we are calling our ‘Sisterhood’ coffees. By having this direct conversation with the female producers we are working with, we are able to build stronger relationships and have a tighter grasp on our sustainable sourcing policies, based on transparency and female empowerment.
The farm is run by the three amazing Boza sisters of Finca San Antonio Amatepec. Karla Boza is a third-generation coffee farmer who contacted us through email last year. She and her two sisters have taken over the management of their family’s farm in El Salvador and have made incredible changes. They never knew where their coffee went before as it was sold to a processing mill.
They convinced their father to process the coffees themselves and to experiment with different processing methods, and the changes have paid off. We worked together to get the coffees from the processing mill to us, something which we had to learn how to do together! For the first time ever, the family now knows who bought their coffee and can have feedback directly from the customers who are drinking it. It’s been an amazing experience, and hopefully the start of a long term relationship which is mutually beneficial. #sisterhood
Bardega: Your business launched just over a year ago in October 2017, can you tell us some of the challenges you have experienced in your first year and how did you overcome them?
Of course there have been challenges, and quite a few at that. Cash flow has probably been our biggest challenge to date, which we realise is a struggle for most small businesses - that struggle is REAL. We just need to make sure we are on top of everything and to be sensible with our purchases.
Also, we both have families so it has been really difficult to find the right balance between work and home life. As it is all still very new GWGC can be a little all-consuming - it’s hard to switch off from work, but this is something we know we need to learn how to do, for the sake of our families and our sanity!
Bardega: What advice would you give other women who are looking to start a business?
To GO FOR IT. Have faith in your abilities and you know, sometimes, you need to screw whatever anyone else thinks! If you are passionate about what you want to do then you will find a way. There are business loans and other sources of funding out there, so do a bit of research, make a solid business plan and do it!
Bardega: What/ who inspires you and why?
Fi: I’m completely inspired by the buzz of cities. I love nothing more than travelling to new places and discovering new places to eat and drink, immersing myself in different cultures fills me with life. People like renegade designers/artists such as Vivienne Westwood, Rei Kawakubo and Ray Eames inspire me to make change.
Casey: Nature inspires me. When I’m on top of a mountain or in a field, it makes me feel like I’m ready for anything. Being away from hustle and bustle reminds me that there’s way more to this world than what’s going on in my life. It inspires me to rise above certain things and to work my butt off for the things that matter.
Bardega: Lastly what advice would you give a younger Fi and Casey?
Fi: I’m such a restless soul, always getting itchy feet to move onto the next place so I’d tell myself to find happiness wherever you are in the world! Oh and, BE YOU. 100% of the time. Weight, height, other peoples opinion, mean nothing.
Casey: I would tell young Casey to take a few more risks, be more adventurous and .... never to have a fringe.