In the United States, 5% of women experience a substance abuse disorder. For women ages 18-25, that number goes up to 18%. Women are almost twice as likely to die from alcoholism compared to men.
For Tami Canaday, these statistics are personal. Her husband, Ryan, is eight years sober. Together the couple runs FREE, a non-profit community for people recovering from addiction and substance abuse—and they’re using coffee roasting to expand their mission in inspiring ways.
We connected with Tami to learn more about how she’s building her roasted coffee brand, Wagon Coffee, to be both a force for good in the recovery world and a profitable business.
In our interview, we discussed:
- Why having a big, bold mission is key to her 700% sales growth over six months
- Practical steps Wagon is taking to empower women in recovery
- How Tami serves 60+ wholesale customers with her Bellwether Roaster
If you’re a coffee business that wants to generate both meaningful impact and profit, this is a story you’ll want to read.
Roasting Coffee for Recovering Addicts Just Makes Sense
Tami and Ryan first started hosting FREE gatherings in their backyard in 2018. Their vision was simple: create a space where addicts, loved ones of addicts, and people they termed “spiritual refugees” could grow together and support each other.
Like at all recovery meetings, they served coffee.
I came to find out that 90+ percent of addicts and alcoholics drink coffee. I had experience overseeing multiple Starbucks locations—it just seemed natural for us to integrate my experience into what we’re doing at FREE.
Tami began roasting coffee on a small home roaster and selling it under Colorado Cottage Act to local friends and community members. She named her brand ‘Wagon Coffee’, because the idea of the FREE nonprofit was that, no matter how many times you fell off the wagon, the community would be there to pick you up.
Many of the women at FREE gatherings were always looking for ways to contribute, and participating in things like doing the dishes or scrubbing toilets were good opportunities to create a stronger sense of belonging and give the women something to build and be proud of:
And I’m like, if I can create a safe and healthy space for these ladies to work in the business on something they care about. Man, we could be creating something really good for the world.
Supporters of their mission were eager to buy roasted beans from Wagon. Tami sold a few dozen bags each month—it was a great way to provide supplemental income for the community.
Unfortunately, there was a roadblock ahead.
Because under the Colorado Cottage Food Act, you can only do $10,000 per SKU if you’re based at home. I knew that if we wanted to ship across state lines or sell more, we’d have to commercialize.
Then came Wagon Coffee’s potential big break. A best-selling NYT author caught wind of the Wagon Coffee mission and offered to feature Tami’s coffee in the author’s “Best of 2019” holiday gift list. It would mean hundreds, if not thousands of sales from around the country.
As a cottage food business, Wagon Coffee simply wasn’t eligible to be featured.
That was a big catalyst that really started lighting a fire under me. And then my imagination grew. I knew we could do so much more if we broke this off from the non-profit and made it a separate entity.
As the dream evolved, it was more clear than ever that the roasting game had to as well. Tami’s roasting capacity on her home roaster was a modest 1.5 pounds per hour. If she was going to grow this thing and hire women in recovery, she would have to upgrade her roasting setup.
How Wagon Coffee Blew Up Like Crazy
Tami spent most of 2020 preparing Wagon Coffee for an official business launch. She got in touch with us at Bellwether in April, and it was clear we aligned right from the start.
- No training required was key. The automated roasting cycles of the Bellwether Roaster meant Tami could choose a roast profile for a coffee, then hire recovering women to use that roast profile over and over again—even if they had zero coffee experience.
- Green coffee sourcing was simplified. Tami maintained her existing sourcing relationships, but now she could also buy coffee from the green coffee marketplace and use the roast profiles our in-house experts create for each coffee to get started roasting on day one.
- Increased roasting capacity overnight. Roasting on a Bellwether would be plug-and-play, and the fastest way to go from roasting 1.5 pounds per hour to 6 pounds in fifteen minutes.
Wagon Coffee launched officially as a business entity in October of 2020 with a Bellwether Roaster. Just weeks later, the manager of that NYT best-selling author reached out again.
We got on the author’s gift list for 2020 and killed it in November and December. We got subscribers in 49 out of 50 states. We were off to the races.
Between January and June of 2021, Wagon Coffee experienced rapid growth. The difference in just six months was a stunning 700% increase in sales.
We wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without Bellwether. So I feel like I’m forever indebted to y’all and your team and just gratitude is all we have.
A big part of this was the explosive interest in wholesale coffee from mission-aligned customers, like other recovery homes, restaurants owned by former addicts, and local churches. Tami began onboarding wholesale customers in April, and it wasn’t long before she had over five dozen regular customers.
When we do a tasting, right away they can taste the difference. Our coffee is very good. But then when you start spelling out the vision, and why we’re here, and who it impacts—that’s when they really get it.
Aside from excellent quality coffee, the appeal of Wagon Coffee is that the business has a direct impact on the lives of women in recovery—and people love supporting that mission.
It’s important to share what’s happening on social media, like hiring more women to help. So people are seeing that carrying Wagon is making a difference to the women behind the scenes.
Wagon Coffee now employs three women in recovery, and is assisted by the volunteer efforts of several more. With a rule that employees must be six months sober, Tami has helped foster a culture of community between the women that helps keep them motivated to get and stay sober.
Wagon Coffee’s Eyeing National Expansion
The party’s just getting started for Wagon Coffee. Tami has no shortage of coffee tastings with potential wholesale clients around the country. People are lining up to experience the Wagon mission and coffee.
The message itself is spreading so easily that I feel like I barely have to do it myself anymore. But my sober living homes are talking about it to each other and it’s popping around and people are approaching me now. It’s growing so much just by word of mouth.
Tami is looking at getting a second Bellwether Roaster to help meet growing demand, and to expand her capacity to hire more women.
My pie-in-the-sky vision is to continue to expand into recovery facilities, sober living homes, anything recovery-centered. I feel like they get me and I get them, we share very similar stories. We’re all in it to help these women get sober.
Wagon is currently evaluating partnerships that would put their coffee in hundreds of recovery center locations around the country. Tami and her team are killing it!
Tami’s Advice for Mission-Driven Coffee Companies
We asked Tami what other coffee companies built on big missions should know about building successful roasting businesses, and here’s what she shared.
Go for it, take the risk. We tend to hold ourselves back and think smaller than we have to. But in Tami’s experience, it’s purpose, cause, and tangible impact that really captures attention—and people love to support people on a mission to make the world better.
Just take the leap and just go, because to have another incremental source of revenue to support your mission is so important. Gosh, people appreciate when you take a risk, whether that’s with coffee or anything else.
Let the mission lead marketing. Everyone sells coffee, but not everyone leans in 100% on a big mission or effort. Show the receipts of your efforts publicly and demonstrate how your customers help you make an impact. Like-minded customers will come.
You can have great coffee all day, every day. There are other coffee roasters that people can go online and buy from. But my customers choose to buy from us because they know their dollars are going back to support the ladies in recovery.
We’re thrilled and honored to be partners with Tami and her crew at Wagon. The impact they’re pursuing is tangible and necessary, and it’s incredible to watch as coffee lovers and wholesale customers around the country rally around their mission.
Are you building a coffee business that’s making an impact? We’d love to chat about how a Bellwether Roaster can help support your big mission by enabling growth. Reach out today.