1A Coffee

1a Coffee in Wilmington recycles glass jars by having customers return them for 75 cents off their next purchase.

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WILMINGTON — Since 1a Coffee Roasters owners Brian and Chrystal Holt started their business late last year, all their labeling has contained the phrase “sustainable evolution.”

Last Friday, the couple found out they were one of seven recipients of The Big Idea Grant for Coffee provided by Oatly for projects that address environmental crises facing the world. 1a will be getting $81,300 for its part.

“We were super pumped,” Brian said, recalling friends telling him about the funding opportunity for independent coffee shops or roasteries with less than 75 employees. 1a is both.

Oatly says the grants are for those in the coffee community to “pursue strategies, projects and innovative ideas then share their learnings to build a more sustainable future for the industry.” Getting rid of single-use to-go materials is considered by the Swedish oat drink company to be a good step in that direction and 1a was already heading there.

Inspired by Bar Nine in Los Angeles, Calif., 1a began serving all cold and hot drinks for consumption at the Wilmington shop or takeout in glass jars. The local business previously used compostable cups but they need to go through a commercial facility not everyone has access to, Chrystal said.

1a started the glass program with 20 cases or about 150 jars secured from a maker near Troy, N.Y. Brian said customers fell in love with the idea.

When a jar is returned, the customer gets a 75-cent credit toward their next purchase. Chrystal said some people might not be returning a jar but at least the glass gets reused.

A few weeks ago, 1a “scaled up” — as Brian put it — and purchased 1,200 jars that were delivered on a pallet. With the grant, he said the plan is to buy about 12,000 jars

“That will hopefully really scale this 10 times to the next level,” he said.

Grant money also will allow 1a to build its infrastructure and purchase a commercial dishwasher to meet the increased volume, Chrystal said.

1a is roasting exclusive coffee offerings for four local businesses: W. Collective in Bennington, the Wundwoven farm stand in Wardsboro, a new restaurant coming in West Dover called Trail87 and Howk House Coffee in Hoosick Falls, N.Y.

“We have a really cool local network,” Brian said, adding that jars can be returned to any of the locations, creating “a really circular supply system.”

Glass, he said, “feels better” — for environmental reasons and taste.

The couple hopes 1a will become a Certified B Corporation, a designation Brattleboro Savings & Loan secured and signifies being a responsible business. Certified B Corporation status means businesses are “legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment,” states bcorporation.net, describing “a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.”

Businesses can’t apply to become a Certified B Corporation until they’ve existed for one year, Brian said. So his plan is to go for the certification once October hits.

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Other grant recipients include Build Coffee in Chicago, Three Keys Coffee in Houston, Don Carvajal Cafe in Bronx, N.Y., 321 Coffee in Raleigh, N.C., and Junior’s Roasted Coffee in Portland, Ore.

“We’re feeling pretty pumped to get this really small area on the map,” Brian said.

Chrystal said Oatly’s primary goal is to reduce the impact of factory and dairy farming, not necessarily small dairy farming. She and Brian, who are vegetarians who drink oat milk but also offer dairy milk at 1a, became familiar with the brand when they tasted the company’s milks while they were in Finland. (The name 1a refers to an address the couple stayed at in Finland, where Chrystal has said their “coffee obsession became real.”)

Oatly came to the United States in 2016. Chrystal described its popularity here quickly growing.

1a and Oatly share the same sustainability goals, she said. On a webpage about the grant, Oatly says “small but real steps” need to be taken by businesses to effect real change.

Brian said the grant has no stipulations or “weird contracts,” and Oatly decided not to funnel the money through nonprofits or create burdensome management tasks after learning from previous initiatives.

Initially, 1a proposed $67,800 for its project. Brian said when Oatly realized some businesses might have tax liabilities, recipients received an extra 20 percent.

The couple is happy to get the grant. They had been part of a “coffee collective” who won a Make it on Main Street grant for new businesses from Wilmington Works but couldn’t receive funds when their project ended up falling outside the bounds of the designated downtown district.

Brian said it’s nice that the Oatly grant is “more functional.”

The funding is anticipated to reach 1a by the end of August. The hope is to get all the new glass jars by the end of September but that depends on supply availability, Chrystal said. Like other products, glass has been difficult to secure at times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Details on the next two phases of the project being financed by the grant will be announced once they’re more fine tuned.

“It’s a large sum of money so we don’t want to just haphazardly do a bunch of random stuff,” Brian said.

1a wants to take a meaningful approach, he said.

“It’s a large influx of cash for Wilmington at large,” he said. “I just want to make sure we do it very well.”