Photography by Brian Baiamonte
COMPANY Light House Coffee
WHAT THEY DO Specialty coffee shop employing refugees
ADDRESS 257 Lee Dr., Suite O, Baton Rouge; lighthousecoffeebr.com
NEXT GOALS Recruit volunteers to teach job skills
ACROSS AN OCEAN
For Amber and Steve Elworth, opening a coffee shop in North Africa was more of a mission than a business venture. Amber says that dream is what brought she and her husband, a pastor at a local church, together in the first place. The idea was to open a business that could drive societal change and offer resources that would contribute to the community’s development. But in 2009, it seemed all the doors were closed. Nine years later, the Elworths, together with business partner Cindy Barker, reimagined their dream and opened Light House Coffee on Lee Drive in April.
The vision behind Light House Coffee is to help refugees in Baton Rouge gain the work experience and cultural skills they need to better their lives. The specialty coffee shop aims to teach soft skills—like the importance of punctuality and hygiene in the workplace—along with more marketable skills, such as creating a résumé, completing a job application and using a computer. Amber’s passion for helping refugees is rooted in her experience teaching English at her church to people from all over the world and teaching for Catholic Charities. Through those interactions and relationships, she began to recognize barriers that keep refugees from fully assimilating into the community.
A BETTER BREW
As connoisseurs of specialty coffee, the Elworths put extra effort into ensuring the coffee at Light House meets the high-quality standards required to earn the distinction. Both Amber and Steve have prior experience working at coffee shops, and they enjoy seeking out specialty coffee when traveling. “It took two years just to prepare to be a unique spot in Baton Rouge, and also just to be labeled as a specialty coffee shop,” Amber says. In the months since opening, an empty seat in Light House has been hard to come by, which Amber says not only benefits the refugees working there, but also provides patrons with a new perspective on a group that has been politicized and misunderstood.
While Amber oversees the day-to-day operations of the shop, Steve and Cindy manage the finance and accounting side of the businesses. Amber calls it a team effort made possible only by constantly taking the next steps in faith together. While the three owners put up initial seed money for the venture, a crowdfunding campaign and private investors helped make Light House a reality. “It is very surreal, because I look in the shop and say, ‘Oh, it really did happen,’” she says. Still, the social entrepreneur views the coffee shop as an instrument for helping others—and she already has ideas for future ventures that could help refugees find housing or create businesses for themselves.