How does one combine a hot “cup of joe” and charitable fund-raising? With a lot of gusto, if you’re Renee Planje.
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A high energy entrepreneur, Renee and her husband Dennis started a roasting company last May called the El Dorado Coffee & Tea Co. The only roasting company in the county, the family business includes their son Rob, daughter Hannah, and a brother-in-law as partners.
The business model for the company combines three of her passions: roasting and selling their own blends of organic coffee and tea, helping local charities raise funds through coffee sales, and providing assistance to female coffee growers who are part of a cooperative called the International Women’s Coffee Alliance.
Beans for the company come from all over the world, including Central and South America, Africa, Indonesia, and Costa Rica. They also make their own blends of tea.
The couple started with a small electric roaster and graduated to a $30,000 brass-plated roaster for processing their beans. In the beginning, their primarily outlet for selling coffee was at local farmers markets. Now, in addition to farmers markets, they are selling coffee through partnerships with different charities, at Whole Foods Market, and through their newest venture — a cafe that carries their coffees and teas.
Called the Shingle Springs Coffee Co., it is located at 4023 Mother Lode Drive in a cafe that was previously owned by two sisters for 16 years. While you shop for your favorite blend of coffee or tea, you can have the barista fix you a custom cup of java and nosh on a pastry.
Fund raising for charities is an important part of the company’s business model. “Fund raising is really what we are about,” said Planje. “It’s the heart of the company. We know that charities are going through really hard times and we’re here to help.”
The way it works is that different nonprofit groups sell her coffee or tea as a fundraiser. In return the charity gets part of the proceeds. Currently El Dorado Coffee & Tea Co. is partnering with Folsom Music Boosters, Green Valley Church, Lake Hills Church, Pershing Elementary School, Oak Ridge High School lacrosse, United Cancer Society, and Sacramento United Cerebral Palsy.
Another aspect of their business is called Project2Love. It was motivated by a desire of Planje and her friend Mery Santos to enhance the lives of women involved in the coffee growing industry. Their mission is to “support the efforts of our sisters from ‘Seed to Cup,’ to buy, roast, sell and promote their coffees and other products in the US.. market.”
Part of the project involves outreach to coffee growers. In January her daughter Hannah left El Dorado County for Nicaragua. She went with three people from New York — a nurse, a pastor, and a man who works with children. Hannah’s cousin, Nancy Gerell, also went along as a translator as she is fluent in Spanish. They were in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, for 10 days. During that time they ran a summer camp for kids, played soccer, taught sewing and art, planted a garden, gave English lessons, showed the kids how to brush their teeth, and did other community projects. El Dorado Coffee & Tea paid for Hannah’s trip. Through outreach efforts like these Planje hopes to improve the lives of coffee growers and their families.
Planje admits that starting her own business is scary but exciting. They have gone from buying one small portable roaster to having a warehouse where they roast and blend their own coffees and teas, market those coffees and teas through a major retail outlet, own and operate a cafe, and collaborate with a range of charities and coffee growers to help them prosper. All this in less than a year.
“We have put everything we own and more into this business,” said Planje. “But we believe in what they are doing. We are on a mission.”