Carley is the joint founder of Wildflyer Coffee in Minneapolis, MN, and is the driving force that has seen it survive and flourish during the pandemic. Wildflyer is much, much more than a cafe, however. They are a non-profit specialty coffee company that are dedicated to providing job stability for youth who are experiencing homelessness. They run a nine month program that helps each worker find a sense of community, while developing the skills needed to remain in employment after the program ends. Carley juggles the day to day running of a coffee company AND a social work program, and deserves huge credit for the incredible work Wildflyer is doing in the Twin Cities community.
Nominated by Barnaby Holmes
Do you have a coffee-making ritual?
I’m an early riser and like to get up before the sun. The first hour or so in the day is usually the only time I have to myself before the craziness of running a business kicks in. I’m pretty protective of this time to myself. Upon waking up, the first thing I do is make myself a pour-over. I love the ritual of it, I know it’s tedious and less convenient, but there is something beautiful about having to slow down and appreciate the craft of coffee brewing and the quality of the bean I’m consuming. All day long, I can drink a cold brew or drip coffee from the coffee shop, but that first cup is a bit more intentional, and I can really savor it, not just drink it to try and stay awake while writing a grant! I always have a little piece of chocolate with my coffee and use the time it takes to drink it to sit in silence or read a book. It’s honestly my most treasured time each day.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
I love the moment of rest it brings. For me, at least, there is something so restful about drinking it. We all know how it feels to grab your drink and take that first sip and just enjoy the flavors and the moment. It’s a forced moment to slow down and experience some warmth in the middle of our crowded, busy lives.
Do you have a favorite song to brew coffee to at the moment?
“Be Afraid” by Jason Isbell. It’s a philosophy that reflects how I’ve been trying to approach some potentially risky and significant decisions regarding the future of Wildflyer.
Do you have a favorite item of clothing to make coffee in?
One of my mom’s baggy old sweaters; she got me into coffee, and it feels right to wear her sweaters while on bar, just like she did years ago.
What was the last cup of coffee you enjoyed?
I recently got back from a trip to Kansas City. It’s random, but one of my all-time favorite coffee shops, Thou Mayest, is there. I was able to sit on their patio and enjoy a great cup of coffee on the first day of sunshine after a long winter. It was perfect.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
The perfect cold brew on a warm summer day, laying out in a park reading a book. That’s where you’ll find me most Saturdays.
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
Anything regarding how we’re using coffee to make people’s lives better. I’ve loved seeing the industry wake up to more ethical sourcing practices. I believe that focus is expanding to the barista side of the industry, and I am passionate about being part of that conversation, as evidenced by the work we do at Wildflyer.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
That of Wildflyer Coffees. How we’re using coffee to employ youth experiencing homelessness. Using coffee to create social change motivates me through the hard days and ups and downs of running a social enterprise.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
The impact shops can have on a neighborhood or community, both good and bad. We forget about how shops can gentrify, how their products can be entirely inaccessible, and how they can change the landscape of a community. This goes along with the overall inaccessibility that can accompany the specialty coffee industry. There’s been a lot of advocacy around these topics, which I’ve been happy to see, but there is a lot more work to do.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your life?
My mom passed away when I was 19. In my hometown, she ran a coffee shop and used coffee to bring people in, connect, and share in times of grief and joy, sadness and celebration. At her funeral, visitors shared stories of how they’d felt seen, heard, and loved when visiting the shop. It was truly a place of community. That moment opened my eyes to the power coffee and coffee shops have to spread love and create community. That was the inspiration for what would become Wildflyer Coffee.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
A barista! It’s been ages since I’ve worked a barista shift, and that’s how I got my start in the industry. Most of my job now is business development, leadership, fundraising, and community relationships. I love it, but I sometimes miss the old days of getting to the shop before the sun is up, brewing the first batch of coffee, dialing in and crafting espresso beverages, and interacting with the regulars you love.
Who are your coffee heroes?
Honestly, my mom. She kept it simple-love people by serving them tasty coffee. It’s basically gotten me to where I’m at in life now and informs how I want to show up in the world and treat others.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Corrie ten Boom. She’s a holocaust survivor and author, her example of faith, integrity and forgiveness in the midst of terrible circumstances inspires me daily.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
A few coffee pros have been invaluable in helping me start Wildflyer. Dan Anderson, the owner of Dogwood Coffee, has been critical in mentoring the business and coffee side of our work and served as a founding board member. I will always be grateful to Mark and Madison, two friends that started a similar coffee shop (Purple Door Coffee) in Denver, CO, and gave me a chance at an internship in the summer of 2014, which put me in my current career trajectory. Caleb Barn of Five Watt Coffee and Micah of Bootstrap Coffee have also played an incredible role for us. While they could view us as competitors or shy away from helping us succeed, they have all constantly been available for support and have cheered us on. We are grateful to the coffee community in the Twin Cities for coming alongside us.
What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
This is literally going to alter the entire trajectory of your life.
Where do you see yourself in 2042?
Wildflyer Coffee has grown into several locations and has a vast network of partners to employ and support youth. As a result, I’m able to engage further in the world of social enterprise and how we can use for-profit and nonprofit models together to create sustainable, tangible change in long-standing social issues, like youth homelessness. I dream of supporting youth programs along the entire spectrum of the supply chain, I’m not sure what that looks like on the growing and sourcing side yet, but it’s something I look forward to exploring in the coming years.