When Savannah Phillips chose coffee as a career, she set out on a path to not only serve the best coffee to her community, but also to equip her neighbors to do the same.
At her day job, Phillips oversees quality assurance at Cafe Virtuoso in Barrio Logan. A drive to the cafe’s location on the outskirts of East Village provides a daily reminder of San Diego’s homeless crisis. When Cafe Virtuoso’s warehouse space opened up, Phillips saw an opportunity to give back through good coffee.
"I always wanted to have a training lab, and I always wanted to do something useful with it for the community," she says. “I thought, what if there is a way to use this space productively?"
Phillips is a Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) certified barista, a level of expertise earned through intensive training. She understood that employers are much more likely to hire candidates whose resume includes the SCA barista certification and founded San Diego Coffee Training Institute to provide SCA training to both coffee professionals and community members who face barriers to employment.
“Our goal is to give people an advantage, something on their resume that is attractive," Phillips says.
Today San Diego Coffee Training Institute (SDCTI) San Diego’s first SCA-Certified Campus and the only one in the country that is also a nonprofit organization. The lab offers paid courses for individuals working in the coffee industry as well as for at-home enthusiasts.
These courses help fund SDCTI’s job training program for students from vulnerable and at-risk populations: youth aging out of foster care, homeless adults and teens, and individuals recently released from incarceration. Training for those facing employment barriers includes both hard skills like brewing the perfect espresso and soft skills like dressing for interviews.
“One of the things I realized early on was that I'm good at coffee and can teach that all day long, but I'm not the person who's going to teach the soft skills like resume writing,” says Phillips. “It's important that I work with organizations that are equipped to do those things.” To accomplish this, SDCTI partners with local nonprofits including Second Chance and Kitchens for Good.
Now in its third year, SDCTI is on its way to becoming a self-sufficient venture. The lab’s paid classes and trainings offset overhead and help fund training for at-risk groups
“I have people just coming to us with all kinds of different needs and different backgrounds," Phillips says. Now we're at a point where we can fulfill our mission, which is giving high caliber training to those who can afford it. That in turn will fund the same quality of job training for those who can't.”