By Mark Schapker
Drive by the intersection of Cherokee and First Street in the Baker neighborhood of Denver, and you may not even notice the one-story brick building on the corner. Once a convenience store, it’s fair to say that this modest structure could be described as indistinct.
Step inside, however, and you feel something completely different. A welcoming vibe percolates, and you notice the smell of some amazing coffee in the air. If you visit more than once, the baristas will get to know you and your preferences and may even have your coffee ready before you order.
You’re in Queen City Collective Coffee, a family-run cafe started by brothers Scott, Luke, and Eric (M.B.A., ’14) Byington in 2018. The name says it all and reveals several layers with what the brothers are accomplishing and how they got to where they are now.
“We’re all about creating our own community here in Denver and working personally with small farmers around the world who source our coffee,” explained Eric. “We have real relationships with the farmers rather than relying on third party certifications or middle men. It’s truly a collective enterprise and helps the farming communities be sustainable.”
Asked about the “Queen City” part of their name, Eric explained that it’s a nod to Denver – the “Queen City of the Plains” – and the many female-owned farming cooperatives they work with.
“Women provide about 70 percent of coffee field and harvest labor worldwide but usually don’t have access to the revenue generated from their labor,” Eric said. “Advocating for women farmers is a key part of our mission.”
Farmers that supply Queen City Collective have their livelihoods in countries including Columbia, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. In fact, it was a random trip to Zimbabwe in 2005 to help with a friend’s fundraiser that connected Eric and his brother Scott to Africa in the first place.
The fund – called Elias’ Fund – was an effort to help a family send their kids through school. It was so successful that Eric and Scott’s work expanded into providing food, medical aid, and other services to Zimbabwean communities. In the meantime, their youngest brother Luke earned his bachelor’s degree from Montana State University and gained valuable experience in coffee production.
A New Direction
After eight years, serious economic challenges in Zimbabwe forced the brothers to change course. While Scott began working for a coffee company, Eric learned about the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise M.B.A. at Colorado State University – and found his purpose.
“The GSSE program aligned so well with my beliefs about how nonprofits should be run and taught the value of a market-based approach to creating sustainable communities and making a positive impact around the world.” Eric went to Africa again, and after three intensive semesters completed the program successfully.
After earning his M.B.A., Eric converged with his brothers about next steps. The idea of Queen City Collective Coffee was born, and it’s already getting high marks in the Denver community. In fact, they were recently voted Best New Coffee Shop in Denver by 303 Magazine and Best New Roaster by Westword!
According to Eric, much of Queen City’s appeal lies with the community vibe of the café, their personal approach to working with the farmers, and of course, the taste.
“There’s a growing demand for high-quality, specialty coffee, which we liken to the fine wine and craft beer industries,” Eric explained. “We are aiming to meet that demand.”
The brothers plan to expand Queen City into several more locations in Denver and will continue focusing on building that fellowship that makes their café unique. It’s a good time to be a coffee lover!
See What the Buzz Is About – CSU Discount
Eric and his brothers feel a strong connection to CSU and hope to see you at Queen City. If you stop by and say you’re a CSU Ram, they’ll take 10 percent off your order! Offer extends through the end of August.
To learn more about Queen City Collective’s mission and their offerings, please visit their website.