Based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the roaster partners with Bridge Refugee Services to employ refugees who are resettling in the area. Mad Priest founder Michael Rice and his wife, Cherita, lived in India for several years where they taught English, befriended many Syrian refugees, and worked in the country’s burgeoning coffee scene. Upon returning to the States, Rice knew he wanted to connect with the local refugee community, but through a for-profit business model.
“Patagonia was a big inspiration,” Rice says. “Here’s a normal, for-profit company that’s doing a ton of stuff to invest in the environment. I want to become the Patagonia for refugees in the coffee industry.”
Rice says it was important to have a product-driven company that started from the ground up. “Refugees need an opportunity to have a good job and maybe even start their own business. Small business is a big part of what makes American democracy great,” he says. Mad Priest is designed to welcome refugees with skills and goals well matched with the coffee industry, offering them a place to grow with the company, even inspiring them to start their own business at some point.
Rice works with Bridge to identify local refugees who are good candidates to build careers in specialty coffee. He began with one full-time employee and is in the process of adding another. Mad Priest also offers catering and event planning, focusing on bringing new cultural experiences to Chattanooga, and connecting refugees with new business opportunities.
—Ellie Bradley is Fresh Cup‘s editor.