Posted 7/14/2014 12:00 am
Updated 3 months ago
Leiva’s Coffee of Sherwood is brewing up a philosophy of generosity, combining homegrown coffee with a belief in helping the less fortunate. The way to accomplish this: offering coffee bean growers a greater percentage of profits to allow for reinvestment in underserved communities.
Geovanni Leiva, 35, is owner of Leiva’s Coffee and a fourth-generation product of a coffee-producing lineage that dates back more than 60 years. He knows the plight of some in Guatemala, his native country, and the company’s business model reflects his desire to enrich lives.
For every $8 spent on coffee, the typical take-away for a farmer is 2 cents, Leiva said. Leiva’s family produces coffee beans on their farm in the eastern mountains of Guatemala, which are then distributed internationally without the typical broker and exporter process.
Situated 3,300 feet above sea level, the farm produces 10,000 pounds of Arabica, Caturra and Burbon blends of coffee each year. About 25 pounds of sundried beans are locally roasted at a time.
Leiva said the coffee has a more consistent taste as a result of smaller production.
The Leivas also are grounded in their Christian faith, which is central to the company’s origin. Pedro Leiva, the original coffee grower in the family, launched a number of churches in Guatemala, according to the Leiva’s Coffee website.
Leiva’s Coffee has a powerful mission to put the extra money saved from selling direct into Guatemalan villages, providing better quality food, water, medicine and education.
“I kept coming back to the phrase ‘Do what has been done for you,’” he said. “I wanted to do something to give Guatemalans the same good life I had been blessed with.”
The business became a full-time operation earlier this year when Leiva partnered with his father, Armando Leiva, and brother, Mynor Leiva, to work out an international distribution setup between the family’s Guatemalan farm and a base in Sherwood. Armando Leiva serves as CEO of the business, having more than 50 years of experience in the coffee industry on the family’s farm.
Mynor Leiva leads the exports, retail and wholesale business in Guatemala for Leiva’s Coffee.
Educated in Arkansas
Geovanni Leiva came to Arkansas through the auspices of Garvin and Sally Abernathy of Bryant. The Abernathys met Leiva during a mission trip to Guatemala and offered to pay for his education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Leiva spent eight months studying English and later transferred to Pulaski Technical College for a degree in computer science, becoming one of the first international students accepted into the college.
He has since established a home in Arkansas, marrying his wife, Alana, and starting a family of his own.
While calling the Natural State home, Leiva remains tied to Guatemala. Trips to his home country piqued Leiva’s interest in giving back through a coffee business that uses Guatemala’s valuable commodity. Leiva travels to his family’s farm at least once a year, helping to harvest coffee beans for production.
Leiva said the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” serves as a constant reminder of his goal.
Realizing how little Guate-malan coffee producers earn, Leiva said he sought change that cut out the middle man and resulted in greater income for employees.
Even as the small business expands, the Leivas haven’t forgotten the value of the hard-working growers they employ. The story of two boys who came to the farm seeking work in 1989 is placed prominently in the company’s history. The boys were not turned away. Instead 8-year-old Paulino James and 10-year-old Albert James were given a place to live and work on the Leiva farm. Paulino James still works for the Leivas as head farmer.
“My mom raised us to help other people,” Leiva said.
Leiva’s Coffee has partnered with Lan Vwa (“the voice” in Haitian Creole) of Wexford, Pennsylvania, an organization that promotes access to education for students in developing regions. The business is a partner in the nonprofit’s efforts to create technology-enriched classrooms in Haiti and Guatemala.
The Capital Hotel in Little Rock is the company’s largest buyer. In addition, Leiva’s coffee sells its products at the North Little Rock Athletic Club and Little Rock Racquet Club and in churches such as Summit Church in North Little Rock and First Baptist Church in Little Rock.
Twenty-five percent of the business’ revenue comes from online sales at LeivasCoffee.com. Leiva said he sees greater potential in expanding the online market as a global source for sustainability-minded coffee production.
Read more articles from this week's focus on small and family-owned businesses: