Helping Others

Elk Grove mayor pours cups for a cause

Gary Davis smiles as the aroma of roasting coffee beans begins to fill the crowded back room, a bucket of Rwanda now, a load of Guatemala later. A few footsteps away, customers at his newly opened Grace Coffee Roasters location in Elk Grove trickle in for a late-morning cup.

It’s perhaps an unlikely career move for Davis, who is Elk Grove’s mayor and works for the California Charter Schools Association. But it stems from a dream he’s held since his college days at California State University, Sacramento, and, he says, a need to make a difference.

Ten percent of Grace’s profits go to Courage Worldwide, a Rocklin-based organization that provides shelter and aid to victims of sex trafficking and child prostitution. His shop’s slogan: “Drink great coffee. Change the world.”

Davis recently launched his second coffee location in Elk Grove – a coffeehouse in the city’s Laguna area – to complement an Old Town-area kiosk he opened at the start of the year.

“I think we can match the quality of anyone in the area, but it’s not just a for-profit thing,” Davis said. “We’re wanting to make a difference in the lives of these young girls.”

Davis, 40, said his idea grew from the coffeehouses he frequented in college during the 1990s.

He sipped cups of Sacramento-brewed Java City at Loehmann’s Plaza during study sessions and while hanging out with friends. “I cultivated an interest and I would look for the best independent shops with a long-term goal of opening my own.”

In later years as Sacramento’s coffee scene began to mature and expand, so did Davis’ palate. He sought out small, local artisan roasters such as the highly regarded Temple Coffee.

“I realized that there was so much great coffee out there,” he said. “I’d find independent shops whenever I’d travel.”

In January, Davis moved from coffee devotee to coffee entrepreneur, selling stocks, including Starbucks investments, to pay $10,000 for a tiny drive-through coffee kiosk on Elk Grove Boulevard and Elk Grove Florin Road at the entrance to the city’s Old Town. Grace Coffee Roasters was born, and with it a pledge to help sex crime victims.

The previous November, Davis met Courage Worldwide officials at an Elk Grove fun run. Davis and his wife, Heather, knew of the organization’s work through their church. Davis, as a public official, knew of the crime’s reach in the Sacramento area and law enforcement’s efforts to fight it in cities like his.

In late June, FBI agents and local authorities recovered nine underage girls working as prostitutes and seven suspected pimps in Fresno, Fairfield and Sacramento as part of the FBI’s Operation Cross Country VIII, which recovered nearly 170 children nationwide. Sacramento’s FBI field office tallied the sixth-highest total of recoveries of the bureau’s 54 field offices, officials said.

Sacramento’s location at the confluence of Interstate 80 and Highway 50 make it a popular and convenient hub for sex traffickers, law enforcement and child advocates say.

“We didn’t just want to start a for-profit coffeehouse,” Davis said. “One of the highest rates of sex trafficking in the country is in Sacramento. We wanted to know what we could do to make a difference. We approached (Courage) and they were all over it.”

“His passion is to open a coffeehouse and to make a difference. He wanted to bring more awareness to Courage Worldwide,” said Stephanie Midthun, a Courage Worldwide community resource director. “Every chance he’s got, he talks about coffee and how to help the girls here. He’s done a lot to talk about the trafficking of children in the U.S. That’s his passion.”

Davis invested another $20,000 in June to open the coffeehouse at the end of a strip mall along Elk Grove Boulevard near Interstate 5. A mix of wooden tables and cozy pieces sit below a wall hanging that reads, “Keep calm and roast on.” On the counter, patrons can pick up handbills on Courage Worldwide’s mission.

In Grace Coffee’s back room, Davis and roaster John Barrett sift through handfuls of still-cooling beans. Some beans will soon head for the sales counter, other bags to a local restaurant. Sacks of the stuff come from across the globe: Brazil and Colombia, Ethiopia and Sumatra. And Rwanda and Guatemala, whose lightly roasted beans were pouring into the cooling tray.

“We’re not a pioneer, but we’re proud to be part of a movement of independent, artisan coffee shops,” Davis said. “We want people to come in and have a beverage that’s so good they want to tell others about it and know that they’re making a difference coming here.”