A Tacoma coffee company, disrupted by the pandemic, makes the most of catastrophe
Unknown numbers of businesses will die as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic shutdown.
But, here and there, businesses are still being born.
Quincy Henry and his wife, Whitni Henry, had prepared for a year to open Campfire Coffee Co. in downtown Tacoma.
The business was born of upheaval. Quincy Henry, a musician and marketer, suddenly found himself without a steady job.
And Whitni Henry, a former Army combat medic, had suffered a concussion at her job at a mental health facility. Her husband said it was the fourth attack by a patient, and a doctor advised her to find a new line of work.
On a drive home from visiting relatives in Utah in 2018, Quincy Henry said, the couple dreamed up an outdoors-themed coffee company, drawing on their love of camping.
After months of planning and more months of construction holdups, they were close to opening their doors this past March — just as the region was shutting down.
"Once the shutdowns hit, we’re staring at boxes in our living room, bags of coffee that we were going to be selling out of this shop, and we had just roasted," Quincy Henry said. "'How are we going to move this stuff?'"
But the whole business was an adaptation to upheaval. And so the couple decided to adapt some more.
"Immediately, it was like, ‘We gotta start an online store,'" Henry said. "Like, ‘We just gotta try it. We have to do something."
Henry said he had prepared for success, but was nonetheless caught off guard by how Campfire Coffee took off online. He said he and his wife, who roast their coffee over an open flame, scrambled to keep up with demand.
Henry said he thinks the business benefited from customers shopping online to keep up with their coffee habits while stuck at home.
He also suspects some liked the idea of supporting a small, Black-owned business at a time of increasing awareness of racial inequity and injustice.
“It feels weird to say because we’re in such a weird space and time with the pandemic and all the social issues that are going on, but all of that stuff is giving us some tailwind to kind of propel us forward," Henry said.
In the coming days, the couple plans to finally open the doors of Campfire Coffee's physical store in downtown Tacoma in early August.
Henry said he looks forward to making people drinks in person. He looks forward to promoting the secondary mission of the business: making the outdoors a more welcoming place for people of color.
And he looks forward to customers seeing the tables made from slices of sequoia tree salvaged from California wildfires — another case of someone making the most of a disaster.