Marshall shop's coffee hopes to aid nonprofits in region

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The tagline for Generoasta Coffee makes it clear what their goals are: "Do Good. Have fun. Drink coffee."

The new coffee shop, which opens today in the Warrendale Village shopping center on Route 19 at Warrendale-Bayne Road in Marshall, was created to do good for customers (and themselves), to have fun, and make it all possible by serving great coffee.

Created by a group of friends who all live in the North Hills, the company was founded to allow people to donate to nonprofits in the community.

It all started about two years ago when Eric Ravotti of Pine was thinking about how people may want to do good, but find themselves short on time and/or money.

"I thought, 'If you didn't have to give up time or money, would you be charitable?' The answer is obviously 'yes'," he said.

The problem, said Mr. Ravotti, was how to make that happen. He began kicking around ideas and talking with friends. Before long, the idea of a coffee house was created and 10 couples -- all friends -- were on board.

"Coffee is a unifying factor with people. It is good and warm and cozy. Why not use it as a conduit for a charitable cause?" he said.

Mr. Ravotti, a real estate developer, and his group of friends began a two-year process of testing coffees, deciding on a location, selecting furniture, sharing ideas to come up with the model for their shop, and selecting nonprofit organizations to be their partners.

Every step of the way was indeed a "process," said Steve Shangold, also of Pine and one of the 20 founders.

"We even tried about 50 different breads when we were choosing what we would serve for the sandwiches," he said. "We thought about everything every step of the way."

And all of the founders were involved in the various steps.

Mr. Ravotti even drew-up "friendship guidelines," a pact that no matter what, they would all remain friends.

"We haven't had to resort to reminding anyone that they have signed the guidelines, but we wanted to have them so that we all remained friends, even if we didn't always agree on every single thing," said Mr. Shangold.

The founders decided that they would select three nonprofits that serve the North Hills and that a portion of their profits for six months will be donated to those organizations. Each customer also receives a token bearing a tagline that he or she places in a giant coffee cup labeled with names of non-profits.

Based on these "votes," additional profits will be donated.

The cups are at the charity wall, where each of the three nonprofits posts information about its mission.

A large TV on the wall shows videos about the groups and information about other nonprofit organizations in the vicinity.

"We thought that three would be a good number because we could share a reasonable amount of information about them," Mr. Shangold said. "Six months is a good time for our customers to absorb information about the organizations, and we would have enough time to support each of them in some events."

To choose the nonprofits, the group formed a committee to research organizations that served the North Hills. They chose nonprofits whose target audiences varied and selected three -- each serving a diverse segment of the community.

Animal Friends, MHY Family Services (formerly Mars Home for Youth), and North Hills Community Outreach, are the first three nonprofits.

Amy Smith, development manager from MHY in Mars, said when committee members reached out to her, she was impressed by their research.

"When they came for a tour, they knew all about us, who we served and our history," she said, "And their passion for their project came out in every interaction that we have had."

Ms. Smith said that the Generoasta team wanted to make sure that the partnership was a good fit, but also they wanted MHY to know that they were serious in wanting to help MHY raise funds.

"It is clear they have a commitment to the community," she said.

The coffee house is furnished with booths, leather chairs, an area with computer connections and a circular table with a fire pit. The centerpiece is a 14-foot table created from a single piece of wood.

Liz Musser of Upper St. Clair, the general manager, has more than 16 years in the coffee business. She said she is excited to share her knowledge of coffee but also do good.

"I love the idea that we are taking coffee and extending it to connect people with their community," she said. Ms. Musser has designed signature coffee and tea drinks for the shop. They will also serve pastries, breakfast sandwiches, soups, salads and sandwiches -- all prepared on-site.

Mr. Ravotti said they hope that Generoasta will be such a hit that they can open other locations.

"We are excited to see where this leads," he said.

While the creation of the coffee shop has taken longer than the group initially hoped -- they estimate the founders have spent well over 5,000 hours in the research and design -- it has been a worthwhile journey, said Mr. Shangold.

"It's been 99 percent fun," he said.


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer:


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