Stumptown, Urban Grind and Boyds. These are a few of the most well known, locally owned coffee shops in Portland, which have collected a strong base of customers over the years.
Tommy Huynh, a PSU senior majoring in business administration finance and marketing, wants to add Purest Café to the growing list of Portland’s local coffee shops.
As founder and co-owner of Purest, Huynh is looking to carve out a niche market in the newly rejuvenated Old Town/Chinatown business district by selling organic coffee and other goods.
Located at 115 S.W. Ash St., Purest Café occupies part of the historic New Market Theater next to the Skidmore Fountain MAX station. The building’s 137 years of history, with its cast-iron arcade and rustic foundation, is what Huynh said initially attracted him to the location.
With no prior experience in the coffee business, Huynh said he first got the idea to open a coffee shop when his friend mentioned it to him.
“The more I look into it, the more I feel that coffee has the potential to change the world,” Huynh said. “I got involved in coffee because my ultimate goal is to be in a setting where you can sell something and help the community at the same time.”
Huynh said he hopes to use Purest Café as a vehicle to promote the organic coffee market as well as give back to the community by supporting local charities. According to Huynh, he envisioned the cafe as a meeting place for students and artists to come and share their ideas with the community.
Rachel “Rainbow” Darby, one of Huynh’s business partners, said she was sold on the idea that coffee can help make a difference when the two first met.
“Whatever success we see in the shop, we want to share with the community,” Darby said. “We’re looking at supporting a couple of different charities and organizations, such as Mercy Corps and the Portland Development Commission.”
One of the organizations that Huynh said he hopes to be able to support is the Community Transition School, which provides support services to children from homeless families, in transition or experiencing poverty-related crises.
With 17 years in the coffee business, Darby said she brings to the table her expertise, while Huynh will contribute his business skills. According to Darby, when they met, she was looking for a place to open a coffee shop herself.
“Our vision just happened to parallel,” Darby said.
As for coffee, Huynh said Purest Café will purchase its coffee from local roaster Longbottom to help expand their organic market.
“We are also looking to work with some coffee growers in Vietnam, because it’s the second largest producer of coffee in the world,” Darby said. “They don’t have any certified organic growers even though close to 90 percent of them are already growing organically, they just can’t afford to get certified.”
Darby said that by working with Longbottom to help coffee growers in Vietnam receive their organic certification, farmers can then command higher prices for their beans. Aside from organic coffee and tea, Purest Café will also feature fresh fruit from farmers’ markets.
“We’re not in business to be rich, but to make the community rich,” Huynh said. “My ultimate hope is that the cafe is not known for what it sells, but for what it supports.”
According to Huynh, one of the first good deeds that Purest Café will carry out is a scholarship worth $250 for one student, which will be available on opening day, Sept. 9. Applicants must write by hand a one-page essay completing the sentence, “For a better world, we should … .”
Huynh said his coffee shop is named Purest to represent the direction they are going, as well as to represent the organic and natural products they will be selling.
“Our goal is to have 100 percent organic and natural items in our store, which could take many years to accomplish,” Huynh said.
For the time being, Purest Café is still under construction with a little over a month before opening day. According to Huynh, most of the building materials for the shop are salvaged, including the wood floor, which came from an old gym in Vancouver.
As for the competition from other organic coffee shops in town, Huynh said he’s not focusing on competing with them, and even named Stumptown and Urban Grind as two of his favorite spots for coffee.
“There’s room for many coffee shops in Portland, especially neighborhood shops,” Darby said. “I enjoy all the other coffee shops around town, and I will continue to visit them and spend money there. Healthy competition is good for business.”
In the future, Huynh said he hopes to expand the business internationally with a cafe in Tokyo, Japan and one in Vietnam. But according to Huynh, there will be only one Purest in Oregon.
“We don’t want to expand too big, because this is the best spot for us to be in,” Huynh said. “The difficulty is to stick to the vision and not get side tracked.”
Purest Café is also reaching out to the community through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.