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Barrio Logan Cafe Brews Coffee, Opportunity Where Homeless And Creatives Meet

Raven Braxton bags coffee for Cafe Virtuoso, Nov. 28, 2017.

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Raven Braxton bags coffee for Cafe Virtuoso, Nov. 28, 2017.

Grab a cup of coffee at Cafe Virtuoso in Barrio Logan and you will notice a newly built room alongside the coffee bar and merchandise. It’s a coffee lab — or it will be.

The San Diego Coffee Training Institute is hosting a groundbreaking celebration and fundraiser in the space Tuesday evening aimed at filling that room with espresso machines and a coffee roaster. The nonprofit’s goal is to use the lab to help homeless and formerly incarcerated people find jobs in San Diego’s coffee industry.

“I go to work every single day, I drive in and out of downtown, and I see these things — the homelessness, the people in the tents, the kids on the street — and I think, ‘I don’t know if I can help these people, because you have to want to be helped,’” said Savannah Phillips, the institute’s founder. “But I have a space that became available at my work.”

RELATED: Homeless Campground In San Diego Providing Lifeline For 40 Children

The institute started last fall, offering certification through the Specialty Coffee Association to people interested in becoming baristas. The cost of the three-day training is about $1,000 and proceeds go directly toward scholarships for vulnerable populations.

Photo by Megan Burks

Greg Luli scoops up coffee beans that he'll roast for Cafe Virtuoso, Nov. 28, 2017.

It was able to offer two scholarships for students at the Monarch School, a public school for homeless youth, in its first year. Phillips said she plans to offer eight to 12 scholarships during the first quarter of next year. She’s working with nonprofits and agencies that already specialize in helping people who were formerly incarcerated, are homeless or are aging out of the foster care system build job and life skills.

“If they have a hard skill like learning how to be a barista, and say they’re really great at that but they don’t have any interpersonal skills, and they can’t show up to work on time, they’re not going to keep the job anyway,” Phillips said. “So it’s important for us to work with organizations that take that very seriously.”

They include the San Diego Workforce Partnership, Second Chance, Father Joe’s Villages, Kitchens For Good, and the Sheriff’s Department, which is currently working with Phillips on a program for women leaving the Las Colinas jail.

RELATED: Nonprofit Teaches ‘Knife Skills And Life Skills’ To San Diegans In Need Of Jobs

Baristas usually start out at minimum wage and can make higher wages if they move into management or other aspects of the industry. The Institute plans to add coffee roasting to the curriculum next year.

“It’s always traditionally been a very transient industry, so you can always find a job in a coffee shop wherever you go,” Phillips said. “And it’s something that hopefully gets you somewhere else. I just want to try and be a stepping stone.”

The San Diego Coffee Training Institute opened last fall near downtown San Diego's homeless encampments and Barrio Logan's creative entrepreneurs. It's expanding to offer more barista training spots to people who need help.

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