10 Years of Coffee and Social Justice

Ipswich, MA—Umesh Bhuju, 43, is a community man. As he sits in his café, Zumi’s Espresso and Ice Cream, he greets customers by name as they walk in.

“In 10 years of business our biggest success is being able to connect with the community,” said Bhuju.

Zumi’s located in Ipswich celebrated its 10th anniversary by hosting a charity benefit on February 17th for the Ipswich Food Pantry and the Ipswich Human Group. The drop in event goes from 8.am. to 4 p.m. and features local musician Orville Giddings. Customers are encouraged to give money to the charity as a substitute to paying for their orders.

Umesh opened the coffee shop after being laid off from his job as a database administrator at a small Newton company. His short experience working in coffee shops in college inspired Bhuju to start his own, and ten year later he’s serving organic coffee and locally made ice cream to the Ipswich community.

Bhuju said that as a child he never knew anything besides organic food. “When I was growing up in Nepal, most of my friends, they were farmers kids,” he said. “I never learned how to do non-organic, the life style of that region where I came from was pretty much all organic.”

Bhuju feels that people should consume healthy and fair trade food, and desired to give people the opportunity to do so. He hopes to change the perception that organic doesn’t necessarily mean breaking the bank.

“People think that organic means expensive. We wanted to make it clear that that’s not true,” said Bhuju. “That’s why our prices are pretty close to what you would pay in a non-organic shop.”

Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee in Orange, MA, supplies Zumi’s with organic, fair trade and kosher coffee, sugar and cocoa. The two companies started working together in 2003 when Zumi’s first opened.

However, their exchanges aren’t completely coffee focused. Michael Skillicorn, farmer relations coordinator for Dean’s Beans, and Heather Rice of Dean’s sales, marketing and outreach division, recently were part of Zumi’s public lecture series about social justice.

“Michael and I came because Michael is going to do a talk about the work that we do at our framer partners,” said Rice. “This is primarily because Zumi’s puts a strong priority on people doing innovative and ethical work.”

Their partnership according to Rice is due to their united vision about how to work with coffee through farming communities. The organization, which will also be celebrating an anniversary this year at 20 years old, will soon be announcing a trip to as yet undisclosed location as they start a Java trip series this summer. This series is open to anyone and takes Dean’s Beans customers into the coffee villages that they work with.

The community-focused approach to coffee for both companies is, according to Skillicorn, what makes them successful and worth celebrating milestone markers.

“Community spaces like this are really important but, unfortunately, are few and far between, so people really respond to a place like Zumi’s,” said Skillicorn. “Umesh decided to work with us because he agreed with the philosophy of our company.  We have a similar community-oriented approach that meshes very well with Zumi’s.”

Published in boston.com on February 15th, 2013


From left to right Michael Skillicorn,  Umesh Bhuju  and Heather Rice at Zumi’s  in Ipswich, MA. Photo by Stephanie Francis
From left to right Michael Skillicorn,
Umesh Bhuju and Heather Rice at Zumi’s
in Ipswich, MA. Photo by Stephanie Francis

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