Block Island Coffee Launches During Coronavirus Outbreak

Kerri Gaffett embraced the learning curve of becoming a wholesale and retail coffee business amidst the pandemic.

On Block Island, Kerri Gaffett and her dog Winston sell Block Island Coffee at the local farmers market on Saturdays. Gaffett displays her Block Island-themed blends like Block Island Sunrise Blend, Mohegan Bluff Medium Roast and Black Rock Dark Roast for people to explore and purchase.

She’s still fairly new to the coffee business with a year under her belt of selling roasted coffee beans and grounds solely at the farmers market. Just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, she decided to grow her business by becoming a wholesale and retail supplier. While COVID-19 has not been the ideal time to start a business, it’s a challenge that Gaffett fully embraces.

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She is no stranger when it comes to dealing with extreme change. After twenty-five years of marriage, she and her husband grew apart and got divorced. Afterwards, Gaffett changed both her name and profession.

“Everything started to shift. I thought what do I want to do with my life? I wasn’t a wife. I wasn’t running a carpentry business. That’s kind of how I recreated what direction I wanted to go in,” Gaffett says.

She soon went back to school and pursued a degree in counseling. It was during this time that the idea of selling coffee started. Gaffett originally fell in love with coffee years ago when she, her husband and their three kids sailed the world. While in Virginia, Gaffett met a single mother sailor who had connected with coffee farmers in Tortola and started her own coffee company, Caribbean Mountain Coffee. When Gaffett and her family left Virginia and continued their travels, they explored the coffee and beer of every country.

It was another ten years until Gaffett saw her sailor friend again. After a hurricane came and decimated the Caribbean, Gaffett went to Tortola in November and taught her friend and other women how to repair roofs. Gaffett had been in the carpentry business since college and she and her husband had run a business together for many years up until their separation. When Gaffett left the Caribbean, she brought back a bunch of her friend’s coffee to sell. All proceeds went to the people of Tortola, and eventually, her friend encouraged Gaffett to go into the coffee business herself.

Gaffett started small by roasting her own coffee and selling it at the local farmers market under the name Block Island Coffee. She sold both coffee beans and grounds in one- or five-pound bags, and the names of each blend were based on places around Block Island, which symbolized her love for the area. Gaffett also made sure that the beans and grounds were Rainforest Alliance certified so that her product was sustainably sourced, and the workers were treated fairly.

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In early 2020, she wanted to see if she could go a little bigger, and while she was the thinking this, the manager of Stop and Shop approached her and asked to sell her products.

“The universe dropped this in my lap for a reason,” Gaffett says.

Gaffett didn’t know much about the business world, so she reached out to people she knew. Through connections she met Tuni Schartner from Venture Café and District Hall Providence who introduced her to free resources for launching small businesses and helped her build a website and social media. She also met with an individual who taught her how to build a social media presence and create a website. Gaffett then decided to grow her business organically by not taking out a loan.

“I’ll grow small and see where it takes me,” Gaffett says.

As things panned out, about a week after Stop and Shop contacted Gaffett, COVID-19 hit New England. Although it did halt the process of getting Block Island Coffee on the supermarkets’ shelves, Gaffett didn’t let this stop her dream. She continued to move forward with her business by promoting her products and showing up to the reinstated farmers markets. Currently, her coffees are being sold at different coffee shops on Block Island and some mainland stores including Roch’s Market in Narragansett and Belmont Market in Wakefield. To make ordering easier and more accessible to people, Gaffett is setting up a way for customers to buy products directly from her website.

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Kerri and her dog, Winston.

Overall, starting this business has been an educational experience for Gaffett and has given her a new mindset for small business management. She finds it rewarding to learn as she goes and is pleased to discover that she enjoys the graphic art aspect of the business which she wouldn’t have realized otherwise. With a lot of positive feedback from people, Gaffett appreciates those who encouraged her to start Block Island Coffee.

“Thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way,” she says. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

To check out her coffee products, go to blockislandcoffee.com.

 

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