Local BIPOC business you can support during the holiday

Coffee shop owner says BIPOC-run businesses can become an inclusive gathering place for all

Stephanie Vu, of Old Crow Coffee Co., has worked to make the space nurturing for folks of all backgrounds. (Submitted)

Located on Front Street in the heart of New Westminster is Old Crow Coffee Co., a coffee shop that isn’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in while focusing on community and giving.

Stephanie Thụy Vy Vũ, owner of Old Crow Coffee Co., opened the doors with two partners almost six years ago. In June, she bought her partners out, becoming the sole owner of the business.

Vũ’s family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam during the war and settled in California, where she grew up. 10 years ago, Vũ came to Vancouver for a metal fabrication apprenticeship and realized it was where she wanted to make her home.

When the pandemic hit, the shop closed for three months, but Vũ used the time to look inward.

“As hard as it was, the closure of the shop really helped me get in alignment with myself and figure out new intentions, like who I wanted to be, what sort of business I want to run, what direction we want to go, and just being more unapologetic about it,” says Vũ.

Over the last six years, the shop has become a safe gathering place for all. On an Instagram post, they write, “lovingly welcoming all ethnic backgrounds, all genders, all sexual orientations, all religious and spiritual backgrounds, all abilities, and all ages.”

“We have an amazing, incredible staff. We’re very much co-op in style. Everyone has a voice here, and it’s important for me that my staff feel they can be unapologetically themselves,” says Vũ.

“There are plenty of spaces in New Westminster, but there isn’t one space directly known for BIPOC, misfits, weirdos, queerdos, whatever. I think there is a need for more of that, and I feel it is necessary for us to be more vocal about that now.”

This year was the launch of In Case You Missed It, an in-store socially-minded retail program that focuses on partnering with BIPOC producers.

This program will only partner with Black and Indigenous producers by bringing in their products and sharing their space for pop-ups. Vũ hopes the shop can create their own sustainable way of continuously putting back into the community while building relationships with these local makers.

One of the shop’s baristas, Tsion (Tsi-Tsi) Mulatu, manages and runs the entire program.

“I’m Black. This affects me all the time. I don’t need a movement or hype in social media or a rally to remind me that I’m Black. I’m Black period,” says Mulatu.

“This isn’t a one-off thing that we want to happen. This is a social and community initiative where we desire to move forward as a community and move forward as women in the business industry,”  Mulatu adds.

A few of the businesses and producers they’ve partnered with are Mumgry, Karibu Handcrafted Soaps, Kula Kitchen, and Sriracha Revolver Hot Sauce.

“It was the relationships that we were able to build that made us see differently. We want to partner with people long-term,” says Mulatu.

Twice a year, the program plans to take 30 per cent of the profits and put them towards a local organization. Their first donation will be going toward Nations Skate Youth, an Indigenous-led non-profit whose mission statement focuses on “empowering Indigenous youth to embrace their right to self-determination through the positive impact of skateboarding.”

The program will bring in Jillian Brooks, the owner of The Métis Bannock Queen, for their first pop-up on Dec. 13. Brooks will be serving plant-based bannock from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm, with the proceeds going to the Urban Native Youth Association.

“We want the face behind the story. We don’t want just to throw you a product because the product will speak for itself,” says Mulatu. “If you miss the person behind it and the story behind it, then it’s just another product.”