Owner of Community Coffee talks about history of company, sense of community

Owner of Community Coffee talks about history of company, sense of community

Nearly everyone in today’s age drinks coffee, for one reason or another. It’s a staple in many households and businesses, and one common brand in the South is Community Coffee. Those attending the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce quarterly luncheon on Nov. 8 got to hear from Community Coffee’s president and CEO, Matt Saurage, about being in the business of coffee.

Community Coffee was opened as a small country coffee shop in 1919 by his great great grandfather, Cap Saurage, and his family, in Baton Rouge. 

From there, the company expanded across the Southeast and became one of the five major coffee companies in the South, Saurage said. He said the word “community” was put intentionally in the name of the company, and reflects the values of the company.

The company, along with the other coffee companies that were technically competitors, eventually relied on one another and worked together when the economy fell on hard times, Saurage said, showing how strong the sense of community was within the coffee business.

What has kept Community Coffee moving is the “shared community value system,” he said.

“That started at the coffee table and was passed on,” he said.

In the 100 years the company has been open, Saurage said some things have changed and evolved alongside the communities they serve, but two aspects have remained a constant: the coffee still comes in the red bag — that was what stood out the most on grocery store shelves when it was first marketed, Saurage said — and the company is still family-owned. 

“We are one of only two grocery retail brands of any size that are privately owned American coffees,” he said.

Saurage is the fourth-generation owner of Community Coffee, and the company has grown from being in four states to 24 states. They’ve survived a myriad of trials, he said, including poor weather-growing conditions, competition from larger companies like Proctor & Gamble and Nestle, and keeping ownership within the family for a century.

Saurage said one of the reasons the company has succeeded over the years — besides making great tasting coffee — is because they had core values they stuck to and gave back to communities.

The company regularly sends bags of coffee to members of the military overseas and is working to make coffee beans a more sustainable crop. They’ve recently started helping in disaster relief efforts, donating coffee and volunteers to hard-hit areas, after the Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Saurage also talked about how Community Coffee Company gives back to local education.

On the back of each bag of coffee is a “proof of purchase” tag, which when collected, can be redeemed for funds from Community Coffee. It’s similar to General Mill’s Box Tops for Education, Saurage said, and the schools just have to be part of the Community Coffee Cash for Schools program.

“The reality is, you can always do something more,” Saurage said, going back to the values of the company. “Right is right.”

Saurage said it’s exciting that the company is turning 100 years old in January, partly because there are so many community stories to tell that involve Community Coffee — but there’s also going to be more in the future. He described it as “100 years young.”

Through the company’s campaign, “#Community100,” they are raising funds for communities across the country to help give back. Saurage announced at the luncheon that Community Coffee would be donating funds to Junior Achievement of Greater Birmingham and provide coffee to Jimmie Hale Mission. The amount for each was dependent on the amount of social media posts and shares the hashtag got from the luncheon.

“Community means the world to us. … It’s about relationships,” he said.

Learn more about Community Coffee or sign up for the Cash for Schools program at communitycoffee.com.

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