Refuge Coffee Brings Jobs and Community 1

If you drive down East Ponce de Leon Avenue in Clarkston, you’ll eventually pass a large red food truck, some brightly colored umbrellas, and a crowd of people. You’ll probably turn around; it’s recommended that you do, because Refuge Coffee has a unique story that you’ll be interested in hearing.

Kitti and Bill Murray moved to Clarkston, just outside of 285 south of 78 three years ago and immediately began volunteering at a local refugee program. Bill grew up in Buckhead, where his father owned Buckhead Hardware, one of the oldest businesses in the area. Bill also went on to pastor a large Buckhead church. But when the Murrays learned about Clarkston, which TIME magazine called “the most diverse square mile in the country,” they knew their calling had moved south of town, where the influx of refugees coupled with the rates of low income and high unemployment had combined into a dire situation.

“What was the solution, I wondered to myself?” Kitti Murray says, sitting outside of her bright red coffee truck. “The more I thought about it, the more I knew it had to be me.” It’s Wednesday, around 3 p.m., and a healthy number of visitors sit in the café-style chairs in front of the truck. Brightly colored umbrellas, tables, and chairs decorate the paved parking lot; a corn hole game waits next to the truck for players, and cheerful chalk pictures adorn the cement. After deciding to take action, Kitti established a board of directors, who decided that a coffee truck would best fit the needs of the small refugee community. Refuge Coffee Company was born.

The purpose is threefold: provide jobs and job training, build a community, and showcase Clarkston to the rest of the city.  Refuge Coffee accomplishes these objectives in a variety of ways. They offer a holistic program, consisting of job training, mentoring, and classroom time. Refugees spend a few hours each week in a classroom setting, learning everything from job skills to social cues to real world lessons. They also have a set time that they work in the coffee truck, learning how to make good quality coffee and interacting with community members, as well as earning a living wage. Local business people sign on to mentor the refugees, as well, bringing them into the office and giving them hands-on experience in all areas of Atlanta, especially the Buckhead business hub. In addition to its regular days in Clarkston, Refuge Coffee Company is also available for both catering and events, both public and private, with plans to expand north to Buckhead, Brookhaven, and the surrounding areas.

Though Refuge Coffee has only been around for a few months, there are already some loyal employees that have been around since the idea was just that – an idea.  Caleb Goodrum, director of operations, met the Murrays through their son.

“After I left the Air Force, I knew I wanted to get into coffee. I was stationed with Kitti’s son and he mentioned the project they were doing,” Goodrum says. Because of his background and interest in coffee, Goodrum helped develop not only the program and truck but also the menu. “I wanted to have a standard coffee shop menu, and then branch out a little – the flavors and price point represent where our refugees come from.” For instance, Refuge Coffee features a hibiscus drink on their menu, a flavor that is popular in areas of Africa and the Middle East. They also make their own chai tea, a drink that is popular throughout most of Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asian countries. “We try to think of the main countries that are represented in Clarkston and tailor the menu to that”

Refuge Coffee Company is a non-profit right now, and we’d love to one day be sustainable,” Murray says.  There are also plans for multiple trucks that can carry Refuge Coffee Company’s message throughout the entire city of Atlanta, including Buckhead and Brookhaven. The truck is for hire for private events, catering, corporate celebrations and weddings.

Wednesday and Friday, 7 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Clarkston Quality Motors