BC Business: Kicking Horse Coffee

B.C. Roasteries from Bean to Brew

BC Business

Why are British Columbians so obsessed with their fair trade, organic and ethical cuppa joe?
By Andrew Findlay

Leo Johnson, co-founder of Kicking Horse Coffee Co. Ltd., remembers pondering an entrepreneurial hunch in the mid-1990s when he and his wife Elana Rosenfeld considered carving out a place on grocery store shelves for specialty coffee alongside the MJBs and Maxwell Houses of the world. That’s when organic food was relegated to an obscure supermarket ghetto and fair trade was barely a blip on the public radar screen. 

“The business is vastly different from when we started,” says Johnson, over the phone from head office in Invermere. “Back then, there were few options for organic coffee, fair trade wasn’t even in existence in Canada and in the retail grocery market there wasn’t a specialty coffee option. We saw a gap and decided to go retail.” Since then, he and Rosenfeld have amassed a string of business awards, including the Business Development Bank of Canada’s young entrepreneur and ongoing achievement awards.

Invermere, a small mountain-shrouded Columbia Valley community, hardly seemed a likely place to germinate a coffee empire when Johnson and Rosenfeld left Toronto for the Rocky Mountains shortly after graduating from university in the early 1990s. They dabbled in the smoothie and café business before launching Kicking Horse Coffee in 1996, goaded, they claim, by Rosenfeld’s mother into opening a coffee roastery.

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