Winnipeg coffee entrepreneur shares “perks” of mentoring

November 9, 2017
When Winnipeg non-profits and social enterprises need a mentor to guide their work, Spark is there to provide an introduction. A service of the Canadian CED Network, Spark connects organizations working on critical Winnipeg issues with people wanting to donate their professional skills for social good.
Recently, they brought together James Magnus-Johnston (co-owner of Fools & Horses Coffee) with New Directions Cafe 6 – a commercial kitchen that gives work and training to Winnipeg youth who are face employment barriers.

Magnus-Johnston recently shared his experience mentoring the Cafe 6 team while juggling his expanding business, his teaching at Canadian Mennonite University and his board work for Assiniboine Credit Union.


When you think back to your match with Cafe 6, what comes to mind?
James Magnus-Johnston: I was hosted in this new world. I had no experience of New Directions whatsoever, this organization with a substantial history, so it was wonderful to be invited in to find out what they’re doing. Liz was very welcoming and has an entrepreneurial spirit.

What is the one thing about the match you’re most proud of?
JMJ: I really enjoy working through problems, so It was interesting to think about the constraints of the project: They had two: a captive customer base in the form the large New Directions building, and the enterprise is working to employ a very specific group of people [with barriers to employment]. With those constraints, how do we achieve a consistent product?

What is one skill that you got to try out that you’ve never used before, or one you got to refine or hone?
JMJ: I had never worked with anyone outside of Fools and Horses to set up another coffee operation. When communicating about coffee equipment, you can slip into coffee jargon, so I needed to be extra clear and avoid this, because ultimately these folks, the youth New Directions is working with, are going to be using with this equipment. We wanted the machines to deliver great coffee, but it also had to fit their operation and their participants.

Was there an “aha” moment for you? If so, what was it?
JMJ: Coffee is a subjective thing and everyone has these strong attachments to it. Whose preferences were at play as we tried to identify our market? Many people will try to spin that there is one right way, and while there is a certain truth to that, there is also improvisation, or else you wouldn’t have different styles of coffee. Working through this around the table was very interesting.

What is one thing that stands out for you about the work that New Directions does?
JMJ: The history of organization, they’ve been around a long time, they are a Winnipeg institution. It’s continually amazing for me to find out how much I don’t know about what’s going on. To find out about the great work they’re doing, to have that opened up for me was wonderful.

Describe the impact that your work has had or will have toward the mission of the organization.
JMJ: The work they are hoping to do will have impact on the lives of young women and on the organization itself. This enterprise may open up new possibilities [for social enterprise and programming] for New Directions to expand into in the future. I hope it has a long and lasting impact and I hope we have opportunities to work together in the future.

What is one thing you learned from working on the project with Cafe 6 that you are able to bring back to your workplace?
JMJ: In terms of developing welcoming spaces and serving a product that doesn’t alienate folks – this is a discussion we had a New Directions Cafe 6, but also one we have at Fools. These questions are always top of mind, every time we start something new: How do we fit into this community and what does the community want?

What did you learn about yourself?
JMJ: In terms of communication, when you are trying to develop something new with a new group of people, I had to revisit some ideas, repeat them and clarify them, and be open to what people don’t know about coffee.

We’re interested in expanding our fleet of Spark consultants. If you were to convince a colleague to sign on as a Spark consultant, what would you say?
JMJ: In doing something with Spark, you are going to learn something about your community and your city that you were not expecting. There are many organizations in the city that could benefit from a refreshed approach that comes from an outside view. There is a potential to make an impact and there is a potential to learn something about your neighbours in the process.