Donkey Coffee continues to perfect support of local businesses

By Gina Mussio, CG Lifestyles & People

It seems like every hip Ohio University student and Athens resident knows about Donkey Coffee and Espresso. In a search for a good coffee house, one looks for comfy furniture, funky decorations and a relaxing atmosphere for studying or socializing—not to mention delicious coffee.

Students find a relaxing place to study on Donkey's second floor. Photo by Sara Salman

At Donkey, as the shop is referred to by many, customers can immerse themselves in all these things while drinking Fair Trade coffee, organic coffee or eating a locally made, organic snack. “From the beginning we knew we wanted to do Fair Trade… [and] we wanted to do local—almost all local baked goods,” said Chris Pyle, owner of Donkey Coffee.

In its search for delicious Fair Trade coffee, Donkey eventually found Deans Beans. Pyle said Dean’s Beans owner Dean Cycon is “this kind of old hippie guy” who provides certified organic, Fair Trade and kosher coffee to only five locations in Ohio, including Donkey.

While the beans are from Costa Rica, almost all of the other food is made or produced locally. Providing regionally baked goods and milk options not only supports the community and provides access to the remarkable local food in Athens, it also greatly reduces “food miles,” or how far food travels before it is purchased.

A typical produce item travels about 1500 miles from production to table, according to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; the average local produce travels just 56 miles. Even critics of the locavore lifestyle–that is, the habit of eating locally grown food–can hardly deny the vast difference between the two, not to mention the community support provided from local food.

Despite support for the locavore lifestlyle, providing these local and organic products was a process for Donkey. For a small business, the price and gamble of consumer interest can deter any major changes.

“It costs more to do local stuff; I mean it would cost us a lot less if we ordered from GFS (Gordon Food Service) … but we would rather have stuff baked fresh everyday,” Pyle said. The switch to Fair Trade sugar and all organic syrups came within the past three years, while local, vegan and organic options came even later for Donkey.

Despite the prices, Pyle has been surprised by the amount of interest in the local food movement. This is good news, as Donkey offers it from places such as Avalanche Pizza, Big Chimney Baking Company, and Ohio University’s Atrium Café. Crumbs Bakery, a local and organic baker located on Columbus Road, delivers cookies and other treats twice a week. The combined total distance of these four locations is only about 25 minutes. This is a huge difference compared to the closest GFS to Athens—which is about triple the distance.

Another choice consumers may notice is the local milk option. Donkey Coffee receives its milk from Snowville Creamery, a farm located in Pomeroy, Ohio. Snowville Creamery provides milk from pasture-grazed cows that is bottled the same day and delivered within 12-48 hours. The price, however, is much higher, and Donkey is forced to charge 50 cents extra for the option of local milk.

Pyle said he hopes someday to offer local milk exclusively, as Donkey continues the process toward promoting social justice and providing environmentally sound coffee. Its ethics and excellent coffee have made it not only a local landmark, but also a local champion.