Situated at the corner of 30th and Welton in the Five Points neighborhood, Purple Door Coffee is hard to miss. Aside from the obvious purple door welcoming in under-caffeinated coffee enthusiasts, the small café has received its fair share of hype since opening in April of 2013. The buzz can be chalked up to three things: Purple Door Coffee serves excellent coffee at a fair price, the space is small yet welcoming and the shop is a socially conscious nonprofit.

That’s right. Each cup of coffee purchased at Purple Door Coffee goes to a good cause. Founded as a nonprofit by Madison Chandler and Mark Smesrud in 2011, Purple Door Coffee is a specialty espresso bar and coffee shop that employs teens and young adults who are currently homeless or have experienced homelessness. The idea behind Purple Door was sparked by Dry Bones (a tenant of ULC’s Mountain View Nonprofit Tower) as they hoped to incorporate an employment program for street kids in metro Denver.

According to Purple Door’s website, “[Dry Bones] wanted to be an organization that is about meeting unmet needs for the Street Kids of Denver. As they were ministering among friends, they realized that employment and job training was one of the greatest unmet needs present on the streets. Dry Bones started dreaming about a café to employ and train friends that were ready for employment and ready to transition away from street life, because of the transferable skills that working in a café environment provides.”

Dry Bones’ dream was finally fulfilled in 2011, when Madison Chandler and Mark Smesrud –who both interned together for Dry Bones in summers past – joined together to launch Purple Door Coffee. Mark, who currently runs the coffee program and job training side of Purple Door, moved to Denver from Dallas in 2012 with barely any money in his bank account, but a dream to launch a socially minded coffee shop. Mark explained that it was Madison who truly had a vision for the coffee shop, and it took a bit of convincing before he was officially on board.

Madison Chandler and Mark Smesrud, the founders of Purple Door Coffee | Photo Courtesy, Purple Door Coffee.
Madison Chandler and Mark Smesrud, the founders of Purple Door Coffee | Photo Courtesy, Purple Door Coffee.

After raising over $150,000 in donations alone, Madison and Mark had the seed money to open up shop. They received approval from the city in January of 2013 and Purple Door Coffee opened its doors in April of the same year. With location and funding it place, it was time to develop the social enterprise side of their business.

Mark explained that they worked with Dry Bones to better understand the culture of Street Kids in Denver, and with Belay Enterprises for expertise on job training. Purple Door Coffee works with a wide age range of homeless youth in Denver, ranging from 12 – 28 years old. In order to give each applicant the full “job process” experience, Purple Door holds an extensive interview and resume review process. Employees work at Purple Door for an entire year, where they develop a skill set including customer service, attention to detail, cleanliness, organization, multi tasking, working in a team environment and communication.

These are all skills that many street kids lack, as Mark explained the process behind brain development halting due to traumatic circumstances. Many of the youth Purple Door works with have been living on the streets and fending for themselves for years, which causes the brain to switch into survival mode. In reference to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Mark explained that many street kids miss out on learning fundamental life skills as their brain is occupied with finding basic necessities like food, water and shelter.

“And yet they also bring a perspective that is so unique,” Mark explained. “My kids teach me so much about positivity. I mean they come in each day and work hard to improve their lives, it is truly inspiring.”

Maslow's heirarchy of needs

With just over four years in the Denver coffee scene, business for Purple Door Coffee is going very well. In 2015, Purple Door launched their coffee roaster in Englewood, which has since opened employment opportunities for homeless youth. Today, Purple Door has the capacity to employee two young adults at its coffee roaster and three at the coffee shop. This has also changed the job training process, as Purple Door’s employees now spend their first three months at the roaster, priming their packaging, delivery and organizational skills. Mark explained that this first step has been extremely rewarding for his employees, as working in the roaster provides tangible results. The remaining nine months are then spent working directly in the coffee shop.

Urban Land Conservancy is proud to work with businesses like Purple Door Coffee who are dedicated to the social well being of others. We’re also very thankful that they serve outstanding coffee with great service – it makes supporting their cause even easier! If you are interested in visiting Purple Door Coffee, check them out at the corner of Welton and 30th in the Five Points neighborhood. They are also looking for whole sale customers for their coffee roaster. If interested, please email roaster@purpledoorcoffee.com

Inside the cafe at Purple Door Coffee |  Photo Courtesy, Sprudge
Inside the cafe at Purple Door Coffee | Photo Courtesy, Sprudge