Speaking to the San Diego Workforce Partnership over a glass of hand-brewed, currant-infused Hibiscus tea, Café X: By Any Beans Necessary co-owner Cynthia Ajani shares that her business’ success depends on more than her bottom line. “We strive to not only build the business, but the community as a result of our success,” she says.
Café X is a Black, women-owned cooperative coffee shop whose mission is to support generational wealth building in Black and other marginalized communities. Cynthia co-owns the shop with her daughter, Khea Pollard, who developed the concept in 2016 based on her work in the RISE San Diego community fellowship program.
“We fulfill our mission by developing cross-sector partnerships with community-based organizations and individuals, sustaining creative and artistic projects, and developing the next generation of leaders to generate a social, cultural and economic movement that changes the quality of life in our communities—one cup at a time,” says Khea.
In the fall of 2021, Café X contacted Access, Inc., who delivers programming in collaboration with the Workforce Partnership, to recruit interns to support daily café operations. “We have created partnerships with organizations who are aligned with the core elements of building community and future leaders,” shares Cynthia. “Access, Inc. and The Workforce Partnership have the infrastructure to provide viable candidates that we might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet, train and/or hire.”
“Our collaboration with Access, Inc. and the Workforce Partnership is an example of the intentionality of our business. We bring individuals and businesses together who would not connect under day-to-day conditions and work environments,” Cynthia shares. “In working with Access, Inc., we were able to re-start our youth development and training program that offers internship hours as a vehicle to gain new job skills, learn the coffee industry, be exposed to entrepreneurship and meet and/or network with other businesses.”
The whole idea of working with youth is to develop the leaders we want to see. Our goal is for them to think independently, to realize their own instincts, to learn to listen to themselves.Cynthia Ajani, co-owner of Café X: By Any Beans Necessary
One of those young people is Betsy, a 17-year-old from Lemon Grove. Betsy came to Access, Inc. looking to explore careers and identify her strengths. She was close to finishing high school and feeling uncertain about her future.
After working with Access, Inc., she landed an interview with Café X and was thrilled when the conversation led her to becoming the newest Café X team member. “Betsy is the ideal candidate for the internship,” Cynthia says. “She’s a current high school student who is very determined, punctual and likes finding solutions outside the box. She is good at what she does and enjoys it. In fact, I call her ‘my star barista’.” The feeling is mutual. “I love my job,” says Betsy.
“It is incredibly powerful for a young person to meet and connect with a business owner who looks like them or who grew up in their neighborhood,” says Kristie Buckley, Access, Inc. president and CEO. “That shows the young person that you can have an idea, make a business and be successful, all in your own community.”
It’s important to Cynthia that Betsy understands she has a voice and feels empowered to use it. The intention is to create a leveling of power that is central to Café X’s business model; it is part of 1835 Creative Studios, a hub of small businesses developed by young people at the start of the pandemic. “The whole idea of working with youth is to develop the leaders we want to see,” Cynthia says. “Our goal is for them to think independently, to realize their own instincts, to learn to listen to themselves.”
Working with Access, Inc. and Café X has given me job experience and customer service skills. My decision-making, confidence and self-esteem have also grown. I am now more comfortable working with people and look forward to future challenges.Betsy, intern at Café X: By Any Beans Necessary
Through her internship with Café X, Betsy is learning the multi-faceted aspects of the business, including customer service, barista duties, shipping, receiving and online order fulfillment while also finishing her education and receiving a Food Handlers Card and Food Manager Certification. She also has learned valuable life skills like budgeting.
Most importantly, while supported by committed mentors at Café X, Betsy has been inspired by this stepping stone and has developed confidence about her future. “I plan to graduate from high school and be able to attend college to finish my education and open my own coffee shop,” she says. “Working with Access, Inc. and Café X has given me job experience and customer service skills. My decision-making, confidence and self-esteem have also grown. I am now more comfortable working with people and look forward to future challenges.”