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Arizona Coffeehouse introduces ‘coffee with a cause’ mantra

Each time customers buy a cup of coffee at SoZo Coffeehouse in Chandler, Ariz., they have the opportunity to actually make the world a better place.
/ Source: East Valley Tribune

Each time customers buy a cup of coffee at SoZo Coffeehouse in Chandler, Ariz. they have the opportunity to actually make the world a better place. That’s why SoZo’s tagline is “coffee with a cause.”

Ownership designed its business-model with the intent to eventually give a sizable portion of all coffee income to international charities, local groups in need, or other organizations.

Donations may reach worldwide – to ventures like Blood: Water Mission, the fight against HIV and AIDS, and the water crisis in Africa; they may stay relatively local – sent to area schools to provide school supplies to students who can’t afford them.

“When people think about SoZo Coffee, they think about ways to help the community or give back to the community,” said SoZo co-owner Scott Morgan. “To just be a presence for something positive.”

SoZo considers itself part of the community, but it also considers the community part of its identity, too. On Friday and Saturday nights, the interior of the coffee shop is transformed into a music venue where local musicians – from harpist to acoustic guitarists to any number of artists in between – can showcase their talents.

“We want to be a family-friendly venue,” Morgan said. “It’s hard to find a place to hear good music that’s a non-bar type environment.”

Morgan, also the pastor for Missio Dei Community Church, and his wife and co-owner Lori Morgan are both musicians. The collaboration of music and coffee was what inspired the Morgans to start the business.

“Before we opened this, there was nothing out there that combined coffee with the musical piece, and that’s one thing we wanted to incorporate,” he said.

The couple founded SoZo in April 2010 using finances from their own pocket as well as his church’s. Scott Morgan felt that the location in a shopping plaza, was ideal for the coffee shop.

“The community around this area is so diverse and we thought it’s a good price and we really liked the demographics,” he said.

SoZo opened its doors to the public in January 2011.

Initially, attracting customers was a challenge. The Morgans thought they would be able to catch people on their way to work or school. However, being tucked inside a shopping plaza proved otherwise.

“We’re in an interesting spot in the plaza here because nothing opens before 8 a.m. and so we opened at 6 a.m. and tried to catch some of that early morning traffic,” Scott Morgan said. “Because nobody comes to the plaza, we didn’t see a lot of morning traffic.”

As a result of a still-fledgling customer base, he has had keep costs down by working long hours and keeping his staff small. The difficult first year of business has also meant that on top of costs and keeping the business operating, charity donations have been in flux, although Morgan hopes the business reaches a point where he will be able to determine a set percent of profit to be donated to charity

Visibility is still one of the biggest obstacles for the coffee shop, with no clear signage on the main thoroughfare of North Alma School Road.

“I don’t think they’re easy to find,” said Candi Vega-White, a customer of SoZo. “It’d be good if they were a little more accessible to people to know where they are.”

SoZo’s staff has never paid for advertising, instead relying primarily on word-of-mouth and social media to bring customers in.

Vega-White, like many other customers, first heard about SoZo through a friend. Its mission is what attracted her to the coffee shop the most.

“I think people are drawn to something that has a cause and that they are local,” said Vega-White.

“The strong point is that when people come in here, they always come back,” said SoZo barista Christin Timmons.

When customers come into SoZo, they also generally tend to stick around, and Timmons said she enjoys conversing with the customers.

“We get a lot of people who come here for the purpose of sipping their coffee and hanging out,” said Timmons.

Even with major competition in the area such as Coffee Rush on West Ray Road or bigger corporations like Starbucks, Morgan said he doesn’t worry about it.

SoZo Coffee prides itself on producing quality coffee with a simple menu. Baristas use a manual lever-style espresso machine to make simple combination drinks or drip coffee.

“You can pile all the sugar and all the other stuff onto it, but I think we want people to really taste how good the coffee is and not lose that,” said Morgan.

But at the end of the day, the ultimate goal for SoZo Coffeehouse is not just to serve coffee, but to serve it with a cause.

“I just want people to know that there’s good out there, there’s hope out there,” said Morgan. “Whatever I can do to help this be a vehicle for that, that’s what I’m going to invest in.”