Matt Payne | Senior Staff Writer
Zera Coffee Company prides itself not only on its free-trade beans and hip ambiance, but also on being distinguishable out of the legion of coffee shops in Denton. They are not entirely focused on profit.
Operated exclusively by unpaid employees volunteering their work, Zera is an extension of the ministry Denton Freedom House, and intends to aid individuals from criminal backgrounds in rebuilding their welfare of life.
“It’s never been about the money,” Zera employee Juan Morales said. “What drives me and so many others involved in this is the opportunity to build new relationships with the community. Our staff is driven by the uniting factor of improving ourselves [and] connecting with the city of Denton.”
Zera also hosts a variety of events that include concerts, Bible studies and the garage sale they recently held on Sept. 4 and 5.
Working as the garage sale’s cashier, and having been with the program for nearly 10 years, Morales stressed that Zera has never been guided by traditional business motives.
“I’ve had a lot of problems I’ve dealt with in the past,” Morales said. “Without the opportunities to reconnect with the community in a constructive, warm way, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Applicants in the program spend 30 days living in the Denton Freedom House performing various activities intended to emphasize constructive activity and self-betterment, such as wood-working and construction. Members of the program also go through counseling and intensive Bible study.
Along with the revenue they collect from the coffee, the profit earned from the garage sale went directly to the funds of Denton Freedom House. The garage sale was specifically hosted to pay for a retreat for the House’s staff and members.
“I think enough people care about this place to the point when, if anything would happen to Zera, enough people would willingly step in to make sure it sticks around,” general manager Jeremiah Moore said. “Simply because they really believe in it.”
Moore has worked with Zera ever since Denton Freedom House opened the shop’s doors in 2009.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in six years. We’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way,” Moore said. “Starting up a business, finding out how to get people through the door, those kind of things.”
In spite of the obstacles presented by a staff made up entirely by volunteers, it is that same service that is at the core of Zera Coffee Company’s mission.
“As a coffee shop alone, we could probably get away with hiring a smaller team at a pay rate, and it would be easier on the staff,” Moore said. “We’re not just any other coffee shop. Our mission sets us apart. Zera provides an outlet for those wanting to rebuild themselves.”
Employee Caleb Tate has been with the Denton Freedom House since 2006 and was originally a part of the ministry’s domestic reconstruction program.
“It’s a very labor-intensive program you commit to,” Tate said. “You’ve got people coming from pasts of drug abuse, alcohol abuse and miscellaneous criminal backgrounds.”
Tate spoke of his long-term goals, which include starting a family, going to school for further education and continuously building new relationships within the city of Denton.
He has continued to work with Zera over the years and sees the coffee shop as a safe place in the hearts of the Denton community, and a threshold for people who are rebuilding their lives to kindle new connections.
“We help facilitate and transition folks from hard ends of life and teach them to interact with the public in a healthy way,” Tate said. “Through their actions, and with a really good cup of coffee.”
Featured Image: Zera barista intern Christopher West refills an espresso machine. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer