Duluth’s Phoenix Roasters has a mission to create local and global change and bring relief to underdeveloped communities through its coffee.
By Alicia Carter | Photos by Karl Lamb
Duluth-based roastery Phoenix Roasters takes its coffee very seriously. In fact, its motto “coffee that matters” is emblazoned on the wall of its new coffee shop, which opened last October in the foyer of the roastery. In addition to making a great cup of coffee, Phoenix Roasters makes that coffee with the intent to help create local and global change.
The Phoenix Roasters team calls the mission behind their coffee “the cycle of relief.” They purchase the coffee at a fair price that’s much higher than the fair- trade minimum, and that income helps to support the farmers, the Phoenix team, and the mission efforts they provide throughout Central America. Locally, the roastery has partnered with the Phoenix Community of Atlanta, a network of churches, to help spread the ministry here at home. Partially funded by the roastery, the Phoenix Community’s mission is to plant and nurture churches around the city of Atlanta.
Faith is always at the core of everything the Phoenix team does. They believe that people are much more alike than we are different, and we connect on a deep level of “like-brokenness” that transforms isolation into community. And while faith and service are the backbone of Phoenix Roasters, co-founder Brian Holland is truly the heart. To hear Holland tell the story behind Phoenix Roasters is to hear the story of how a man, who was once broken, came to find a new purpose through a community that he helped build.
A Bright Light
“I was a youth pastor for 20 years, and I thought I was going to be a youth pastor for life,” Holland says. “My three-word story describes my whole life. It is bondage, freedom and forgiveness. I grew up in a bright light. I’ve never experienced divorce; my parents just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. I grew up in a great church. I experienced bright light everywhere. But when I was 5 years old, my neighbor started molesting me. So I was in perfect light along with the deepest darkness, and I existed in this balance. But once I left home, the light went away and all I was left with was darkness. So I began self-medicating and acting out. I was trying to calm that pain any way I could until May 2, 1988. That’s when I received the love and forgiveness of Jesus.”
“I had always played the victim,” Holland continues. “But what I realized after I received the love and forgiveness of Jesus is that we’re all busted, we’re all broken, and we all need forgiveness. Over time, I was able to start forgiving everybody. And it led me to ministry. It led me to wanting to help young people. I didn’t want anyone to experience the depth of pain that I had.”
“I’d been a youth pastor here in town, and I noticed a trend that it seemed like we spent all of our time in ministry kind of building the church,” Holland says. “But there wasn’t a whole lot of individual transformation. On Tuesdays, we had what we call the ‘benevolence hour’ where people could come in who were broken and hurting and desperate, and they could receive assistance for paying bills. They could get a sack of groceries. It was an hour where people could come and find some relief. They would come week in and week out to that benevolence hour, but they would never come back for the worship. One day, I was walking through and I said, ‘I wonder why they never come back for the worship hour?’ And I felt like the Lord said, ‘Because you can’t afford them.’ As a youth pastor, I got the cost of helping broken people because you’re helping them pay the bills. But what I wasn’t ready for is what it would cost in leadership to see a person go from broken to transformed. I wanted to do what Jesus did: reach the brokenhearted.”
By 2007, Holland had spent a year dreaming about his Phoenix aspirations. During a mission trip in Brunswick, Georgia, Holland felt the calling of the Lord to start planting the seeds of his new journey. He had been with his current church for 11 years but wanted to leave to fulfill his desire to reach the people who were broken. Originally, Holland wasn’t looking to start a church, but during the mission trip in Brunswick his heart was led to start the Phoenix Community of Atlanta. Holland’s friends Greg Sweatt and Jeff Bagwell joined to help realize his dream.
Coffee That Matters
“We had dreamed about being a marketplace church and doing something different,” Holland says. “We knew that coffee brought people together. I always say there are three commodities that bring people together in a social contract: beer, cigars, and coffee. So we started a coffee company with the idea that we were going to use coffee to bring people together.”
The team originally got permission from a coffee company to sell its coffee with the Phoenix name on it. But over time, they knew they would need to take matters into their own hands. Through a series of God-led events, the team was able to procure the correct equipment and location to begin roasting their own coffee.
Phoenix Roasters coffee is 100% Arabica coffee, grown and rated as specialty coffee and ranking among the top 1% of coffee in the world by the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the International Coffee Association. While most of their coffee is single origin, their blends take into consideration complementary flavors and tastes, avoiding blends of lower quality beans.
Through this coffee, Holland is able to fulfill his dream of positively impacting communities locally and globally. Locally, the Phoenix Community of Atlanta provides resources to domestic relief projects, including ending the commercial exploitation of children, ending homelessness, restoring abuse victims, supporting single mothers, and more. Phoenix Roasters allows Brian to truly do what he set out to do so many years ago: reach the brokenhearted.
“We just keep loving people and loving broken people,” Holland says. “And that’s really what we’re all about.”