Shaker’s newest coffee shop is part of a broad effort in sustainability and community building.
By Diana Simeon
Onaway resident Mike Vehar didn’t expect to open a coffee shop in the Kingsbury Building at Van Aken Boulevard and Lee Road when he signed up for an office at Th e Dealership in 2017. He was focused on building his new company, 3-19 Coffee, which he co-founded that same year with two partners.
3-19 buys high-quality coffee beans from small-scale farmers, mostly in Central and South America, and roasts them in San Francisco. It sells its coffee online at 319coffee.com and at select retailers.
But the company’s mission goes well beyond a great cup of coffee. It has a social mission, too.
“We want to ensure that our farmers have the ability to earn a better living and stay on their farms in a sustainable way,” says Vehar, who had just returned from a trip to Guatemala and Honduras, where 3-19 has partnered with Catracha Coffee, a cooperative of about 80 small growers in Santa Elena, La Paz. (See photos via link below.) The company also buys from small growers in Colombia and Brazil, as well as the Kayon Mountain Coffee Farm in Ethiopia. Every partner is carefully sourced before being added to the company’s menu.
Each cup of 3-19’s coffee tells a story. For instance, purchase a bag of medium roast Atanacio Nolasco and you’ll get coffee grown by Atanacio Nolasco Gutierrez on his 2.5 acre farm, El Tucan, in Honduras. Or perhaps you prefer a light roast? La Bendición is grown by Carlos Vásquez and his family on their 49-acre farm, La Bendición, in Guatemala.
“We’re also committed to putting a portion of our profits toward social good, usually toward art and community,” says Vehar. The company’s tag line: Coffee Made Creative.
3-19 has helped kick start a community arts program in Santa Elena, Honduras, where Catracha is based. (View video and photos of the 2017 Honduras Art Youth Conference, sponsored by 3-19, via the links below.) Here in Cleveland, 3-19 has forged a partnership with Graffiti HeArt to create four “artist tins.” Five dollars from each tin sold goes toward art scholarships for local students. Similarly, the company has partnered with several not-for-profits, including the Cleveland-based Lilly’s Ray of Hope, and worked with artists to create and sell tins to benefit those organizations.
While a Cleveland-area coffee shop was not part of 3-19’s original plan, the idea percolated during the two years Vehar and his partners – Cincinnati-based Chris Dollries and San Francisco-based Mike Weaver – worked to build the online business. A second shop is being planned for Cincinnati.
Opening the Shaker location has everything to do with my working at The Dealership,” says Vehar. “I really started to think about how to impact the community I was living and working in and that’s how it started.”
Vehar left an engineering gig at General Electric to join the company, which officially launched on March 19, 2017. He’s also worked on sustainability projects in both Central and South America. The company is named 3-19 because two of the three founder’s wives were born on March 19.
Vehar also credits the Shaker Heights Development Corporation (SHDC), “which was supportive from day one,” he says.
That’s just what Nick Fedor, executive director of the SHDC – which manages The Dealership – likes to hear. “It’s our goal and mission to attract and support businesses like 3-19,” he says. “The fact that this success story comes out of The Dealership is just icing on the cake.”
3-19 Coffee also runs a pop-up location at The Dealership. “We’ve been serving the coffee here for years,” says Fedor. “And that gave Mike the opportunity to try out brews and different kinds of beans and get a sense for the commercial district that The Dealership is part of.”
The company considered “five or six” other spots for its new venture. But the Kingsbury Building – just a couple blocks from The Dealership – checked all the boxes. Indeed, the renovated space is light and bright, a welcoming spot on this busy corner. Says Vehar, “This is a big deal for us and we’re really excited about it.”
Stop by to enjoy some coffee or another beverage (there are many), and a bite to eat (there’s a growing menu of breakfast and lunch items) – or just to check out the art gallery at this new community gathering spot.
Originally published in Shaker Life, Summer 2019.
View a video of the 2017 Honduras Art Youth Conference sponsored by 3-19 Coffee.