This blog series, posted in partnership between HYPE and reSET, offers a platform to showcase the commitment that Hartford entrepreneurs have for their work and this city. It examines how entrepreneurs have chosen their work, and provides examples of the ways in which they are having an impact in Hartford. In this edition, we interviewed Uyen Mai of Sarah’s Coffee House, which launched last fall to support direct trade by sourcing the highest-quality organic Arabica coffee beans directly from farm families and co-ops to guarantee just practices and high quality products.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your business partners (if applicable).

My name is Uyen Mai. I’m 26-years-old, a coffee/tea lover, a social entrepreneur, and an adventurer. I was born and raised in Vietnam, and moved to the U.S. when I was 8-years-old. Later on, I attended Penn State University, where I studied Biochemistry and Global Health. I inherited my passion for coffee from my mother, who worked on a coffee farm as a young child.

Why did you decide to be based in Hartford?

I moved to Hartford from Pennsylvania, with the intention of going to graduate school and obtaining a Master of Public Health (MPH). However, my internship/volunteering work in Hartford/Haiti that summer led me to coffee and opening up my own business.

How do you think your work impacts the community and vice versa?

I like to think of “community” and how Sarah’s Coffee is impacting Hartford in two ways.

The first way focuses on building a social enterprise with local values, which serves the community as part of the “third wave” movement. Jonathan Gold of LA Weekly summarized the country’s first, second, and third wave coffee movements best when he said:

“The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet’s and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.”

The second way focuses on developing a truly sustainable business model that allows Sarah’s Coffee House to source its coffee beans directly from the small farms that harvested them and that allows those enterprises to earn a fair wage.

What words of wisdom would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who may be hesitant to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?

A friend once told me the following, “It takes a lot of money to help others, so if you’re not good at asking for it, find a way to earn it.” I tried the former and wasn’t great at it, so I moved on to the latter! Perseverance, sweat, and humility are the three attributes that helped me open up my first business.

What’s it like being an entrepreneur in Hartford?  What are the benefits, but also what are the difficulties and challenges?

The benefits of pursuing social entrepreneurship in Hartford is that it’s a supportive, kind, and loving network of aspiring entrepreneurs.

While the City of Hartford and area banks have been great sources of information for me, they haven’t been as start-up friendly as I would’ve hoped with regards to capital support for “young” professionals.

What’s your vision for your business and personal development over the next five years?

Personally, I hope to earn an MBA in Finance, master the dancer’s pose in yoga, and travel to all 7 continents.

On the business side of things, I hope to start Round A of raising capital for the licensing and franchising portion of Sarah’s Coffee. Success with that will directly affect the development of our Global Farm-Family Initiative, which focuses on bringing resources to help small farmers increase production on their farms. Our goal is to provide educational programs to help our associates help themselves through education, basic medical needs, shelter, and equipment upgrades.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the reSET and HYPE communities?  We’ll be sure to include a link to your shop and upcoming events in this piece, but definitely don’t hesitate to chime in with any other advice or info that would be helpful to you.   

We are currently working on packaging and retailing our coffee beans and look forward to having it available in the next few months.

Aside from the coffee house, we are in the process of building out an intimate bar/lounge in the back and anticipate the completion and soft opening of the bar by St. Patrick’s Day. We look forward to being able to have the ability to be creative with our integration of coffee, tea, and alcohol.

The following are links for the Sarah’s Coffee House website and social media accounts: