by Mark Van Streefkerk
Onda Origins Cafe & Roastery has turned their flagship cafe into a general store for local farmers, whose revenues have been hit hard by the closure of Seattle’s farmers markets. Although COVID-19 has shut down all but essential businesses, Onda remains open for take-out beverages and wholesale coffee, initiating partnerships with other local producers to sell their products. The company’s mission of connecting consumers to coffee producers has broadened to include connecting local farmers with the Hillman City community.
As coronavirus swept the state and led to the mid-March shutdowns of many businesses, Shannon Keith, Onda’s Director of Impact and Engagement, saw that “Grocery shopping and being able to get food became more nightmarish. As a brand that really values connecting coffee farmers with customers — we’re seeing the closure of Washington farmers markets and recognizing the impact that was having on our local farmers outside of coffee. The exciting opportunity for us was to be able to continue our to-go coffee service, to continue to connect coffee farmers with our customers, in addition to adding in more local folks.”
With the help of Seattle Farmers Market Association, Onda reached out to over 11 local producers to offer the cafe as a place to sell their food and wares. Customers can buy teriyaki smoked oysters and lemon-smoked albacore tuna from Ekone Oyster Co., chicken and spinach from Kirsop Farm, and shelf-stable products like coconut oil and olive oil from Stocked, a “local-focused distributor.” Onda employee Kala Wolfe sells fresh-baked bread through her side project, Doughbaby. “She makes these sourdough loaves that have become locally-famous on the corner. We get between four and eight a day. They rarely make it to the end of the day,” said Onda co-founder Paul Tupper.
After the Onda team saw a Facebook post about how market closures were taking a toll on flower farmers, for whom this is a peak season, they reached out to Cha New Life Garden to offer their cafe as a pickup location for their flowers. Other products available for pickup are grass-fed beef from Spoon Full Farm, cured meats from Salt Blade, and milk from Smith Brothers Farms. An up-to-date list can be found on Onda’s profile on the Joe Coffee App.
Onda has established itself among the many specialty cafes in Seattle by fostering direct relationships with farmers, and utilizing blockchain technology to ensure transparency throughout the coffee supply chain. Customers are able to see just how much coffee growers are paid, and how that compares with the rest of the market. Tupper adds that in addition to transparency, “We’ve created this revenue share program which basically floats extra cash after purchase to the coffee grower. When someone might reference Fair Trade, our revenue-share model provides about twelve times as much back to the growers afterwards.”
While taking on additional vendors might seem like a risky move during a pandemic, these new partnerships have been overwhelmingly successful. “It’s been a huge boon for us,” Keith said. “We’ve been having a hard time keeping stuff in stock.”
Monica Padman, co-host of the weekly podcast Armchair Expert, and long-time friend of Tupper, created a special fund at Onda for those most in need. Her generous tab is available for the community to use, especially frontline healthcare workers and people in the service industry experiencing hardship.
There are two ways to place an order: the first is through Onda’s listing on the Joe Coffee App. Customers can order coffee and groceries through the app, and have it ready for pickup. The second is by walk-up order. Onda’s location on the corner of Findlay and Rainier has an order window and a pickup window. Customers and staff have a glass barrier between them.
While Onda’s mini-mercantile is helping in times of crisis, Tupper is confident this is the start of long-standing partnerships between the cafe and local farmers. He said, “We’ll continue to do this iteration of the ‘general store’ until the cafe is able to open up safely. After that — yes, we’ll continue as many of these sourcing relationships as we can, given our space constraints, and we’re contemplating other creative ways to keep partnering. It’s been a really great experience for us, and for our customers and our vendors too. So we’ll see what we can do!”
Mark Van Streefkerk is a South-Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured image: by Alex Garland.