Seattle-based outdoors outfitter MiiR is working towards an ambitious mission: to design products that help people “rise above poverty.” Now, the company has entered into the city’s cafe scene and is applying its social enterprise model to coffee (and beer) sales. MiiR’s recently opened flagship in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood is split into a trip of concepts: cafe, watering hole, and retail. And if you’re into slick and ambitious spaces, you’ll likely declare this one freaking gorgeous.
Before opening its storefront concept, MiiR existed solely as an online and wholesale retailer, selling water bottles to outdoors chains including REI. For every water bottle it sells, MiiR provides clean drinking water to one person for one year; since its inception five years back, the company has completed 36 water projects around the world.
MiiR has since started manufacturing pint cups, growlers, and howlers. In 2013, they launched a bike program—so far, more than 3,000 bikes have been donated domestically and internationally to match each bike purchased. Think the TOMS one-for-one model. This year, MiiR began manufacturing bags to fund international education projects.
In 2014, MiiR staff began to consider ways to execute a physical retail space. Since beer and coffee pair well with some of the products the company designs, like coffee tumblers and growlers, the team hatched a concept that would combine retail, coffee service, and a tap wall for growler-filling into a single gathering space to “provide people with the chance to enter into the story of empowerment just by buying a cup of coffee or beer,” MiiR’s Director of Retail Jesse Davis says.
No stranger to social enterprise, Davis landed at MiiR as executive director after running the coffee bar and training program for Street Bean Espresso, the business backed by Seattle-based nonprofit New Horizons that teaches barista skills to street kids. Davis points out that it can be hard to build revenue while giving back in a way that’s traceable. “The thing with social enterprise now is it’s a total marketing option and it’s become much more of a buzzword,” he says. “You have companies out there that claim to do these things but there’s little transparency actually happening.”
For every cup of coffee or pint of beer sold at MiiR’s flagship, one person will be provided with clean water for one day. For this quarter, proceeds go to water projects in Uganda. “Similar to our water bottles and bikes, there’s actually a code that comes along with each receipt that you can enter into the website and track your impact,” Davis says. Six to 18 months after you drink, say, a cortado at MiiR, you can check the MiiR website and see pictures with GPS coordinates of the water project you helped fund.
Coffee comes from Seattle’s Kuma, Portland’s Heart, and Santa Cruz’s Verve. Davis says that MiiR’s twin customized La Marzocco Stradas and Marco hot water boilers frame the shop’s bar and were intentionally positioned so baristas are allowed maximum view of the room. “Our motto as a company is ‘Design to Empower’ so we wanted to create a space that would reflect that idea and connect to people on both sides of the counter with the product and story,” he says.
The space is filled with people grabbing espresso or meeting up throughout the day for coffee. Davis says the happy hour rush begins around five, when pint glasses start to replace ceramic cups. MiiR’s bar is shared by eight baristas-by-day that become beerkeeps at night.
In addition to a working knowledge of 28 rotating taps (26 beer, two cider), baristas go through a full training program. “We don’t let people up on the bar unless we’re confident in their ability to dial in an espresso and make sure their palates are attuned to differentiate what’s over- or under-extracted,” Davis says.
Davis admits that developing a cohesive product is hard work, but affirms that you don’t have to stick to one particular mode of doing business to succeed. “One of the cool things about this space is being able to continue to help push the envelope for social enterprise, the coffee and beer industries, and even the retail industry,” Davis says. “For us, to be able to provide an exceptional product over the counter and on the shelves and pairing that with empowering others across the globe in such a traceable and transparent way is extremely unique.”
Sara Billups (@hellobillups) is a Seattle-based food and drinks writer, and has written previously for Tasting Table, Seattle Weekly, and Eater Seattle. Read more Sara Billups on Sprudge.