English River First Nation is now the owner of what has been described as Canada’s first fully Indigenous-owned coffee company.
Des Nedhe Group, the economic arm of the First Nation, has partnered with Roadhouse Coffee to create Solstice Coffee.
The new company was the subject of a celebratory breakfast at its operation on English River urban reserve land south of Saskatoon Wednesday morning.
Sean Willy, President of Des Nedhe Group, explained to MBC Radio News why there was economic opportunity in the coffee industry.
“We all drink coffee,” Willy said with a laugh. “Our community drinks coffee and it is something we all do on a daily basis.
Willy says Solstice Coffee will also provide benefit to Des Nedhe Group’s growing developments at Grasswood, which includes a Petro Can, business centres, and water treatment facilities.
Beyond being an Indigenous-owned coffee company, Willy says Solstice Coffee also has a unique standing with a fully Indigenous supply chain – from Indigenous farmers in Central America to Indigenous people in Canada handling distribution.
“This is different than just having Indigenous ownership with no Indigenous participation in the supply chain and we thought that would resonate with a number of national clients,” he said.
For Alisha Esmail, founder of Roadhouse Coffee, this Indigenous supply chain was key to her decision to partner with Des Nedhe Group.
“Coffee gets grown by these amazing Indigenous people overseas, but by the time it gets to the final cup – that culture and people behind it are lost,” said Esmail. “So we decided we wanted to partner together to form a fully Indigenous supply chain that supports not only the Indigenous coffee farmers, but also Indigenous people here at home.”
Sean Willy says Solstice Coffee will have “full market penetration” as it will be available in grocery stores, gas stations, along with distribution at northern mine sites and other commercial contracts.
(PHOTO – Alsha Esmail and Sean Willy stand for a photo in front of Solstice Coffee. Photo by Joel Willick.)