In 2013, Refuge Coffee Co. founders Kitti and Bill Murray moved from Old Fourth Ward to Clarkston, looking for more space for their grandchildren to play. Kitti, a freelance writer, and Bill, a former pastor, had no intention of starting a business, much less a coffee shop. But they found themselves in a community of refugees who were struggling to find jobs that would enable them to care for their families.
“The No. 1 job refugees get here is at the chicken processing plant one and a half hours away. It’s a survival job, not a thriving job,” Kitti Murray says.
One day, she took a Somalian friend out for coffee at Dancing Goats in Decatur. “She said, ‘We’ll never have anything like this in Clarkston.’ That was one of the moments that I knew we had to do this,” Murray says.
To test the idea of a coffee shop for—and run by—refugees, the Murrays held block parties where they served pour-over coffee made on gas burners. It was a hit. They purchased an 1986 red Chevy and transformed it into a mobile coffee shop, from which they serve cappuccinos, lattes, hot chocolate, chai, and anything else you’d expect from your favorite coffee spot.
They started hiring and training local refugees, and catering weddings and events. Along the way, they picked up a second truck, as well as a coffee cart. Recently, they purchased a 1960s service station at 4170 East Ponce de Leon Avenue, where they plan to build a kitchen and expand the food offerings of Refuge. (Right now, they have one of their trucks parked in the driveway and are serving coffee out of it.)
They currently serve samosas made by a local baker and some sweet and savory items from Ratio Bakeshop. While they haven’t designed new food menus yet, they have discussed hosting pop-up chefs from different countries, Murray says.
They also decorated the interior of the garage with local art and an “urban funky” vibe, complete with ample seating for Refuge customers.
But Refuge is more than a coffee shop. It’s a 501c3 nonprofit that pays a living wage to its 11 employees and provides a paid, month-long educational curriculum catered to the refugees’ goals. They find their employees through word-of-mouth and networking.
“Our goal is to provide jobs and job training for refugees, but it’s also to serve the community,” Murray says. “We want to reflect the culture and flavors of the community, which is vastly varied.”