Shelley Bolton is the Manager of Social Enterprise for the PHS Community Services Society in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. As Director and Head Chocolate Maker at East Van Roasters (EVR), making exquisite bean-to-bar chocolate and coffee while employing women from the community is one of the passion projects that keeps Shelley up at night!
East Van Roasters (319 Carrall Street in the Rainier Hotel) is a 16-seat specialty cafe and social enterprise of the PHS Community Services Society. Intentionally designed to provide pre-employment training and work opportunity for the women residents of the Rainier Hotel, East Van Roasters (EVR) creates organic ‘bean to bar’ chocolate and coffee roasted and prepared on site. The cafe serves up delicious organic drinking chocolate, coffee, hand rolled truffles, single-origin chocolate bars and selected pastries.
In September of 2016, Shelley Bolton, who is the PHS Manager of Social Enterprise and the Head Chocolate Maker at EVR, presented the enterprise as a Case Study at SVI Hollyhock. The EVR business challenge centred around whether or not to keep the retail bakery that had opened just a few doors down 6 months before, but was struggling to return to the enterprise’s bottom line. When I asked Shelley about how the case study influenced the decision she said “more than anything there was a lot of support and confirmation about how I was thinking and feeling about the business”. Even though they had a solid business plan and a great product the environmental factors in the neighbourhood were beyond their control and had hindered the facility’s success. Since the Case Study EVR repurposed that location for production only and the new focus is allowing them to produce a much higher volume of goods, including a new sugar free line of chocolate bars.
If you aren’t familiar with it, originally built in the 1920s, the Rainier Hotel re-opened in 2009 redesigned as a women’s only treatment project, and supportive housing for women in recovery. The program is meant to target deeply-entrenched women with little access to mainstream programs, or for those who have fared poorly in traditional treatment settings.
A recently released social return on investment report from Atira Property Management found that for “every dollar spent to employ target employee group individuals there was a social ROI of $3.32.” These findings were specific to Atira’s employees however the model is the same as the one that EVR employs.
Our conversation got really animated when Shelley started to discuss this aspect of her work. While she recognizes that the goal of any social enterprise should be to operate at a self sustaining level, she feels there still needs to be a culture shift around supporting social enterprises. She says, “you have to be super creative in order to be inclusive and put people to work that want to work”. She also noted there needs to be more education around the benefits of social enterprise, not just for the people being hired but for society as a whole.
About her experience as a Case Study presenter at SVI Hollyhock Shelley noted that it was an incredibly valuable experience to be able to discuss the business with likeminded peers who aren’t “in it” because they provide a much needed outside perspective. Her advice to new comers to SVI? “Really ask for what you need and don’t be afraid to reach out for mentorship.” She said that within 6 months of the conference she had an absolute dream team of advisors that she looks forward to connecting with on a regular basis.
If you are in the neighbourhood stop by for a great cup of coffee, some tasty chocolate, and sign the SVI guestbook!