This Denver Coffee Company Helps Women in Recovery ‘Stay on the Wagon’

Mornings at Wagon Coffee Roasters start with a 12-step meeting at 9:30. The employees and volunteers, all women on their own journey of sobriety, get together and share as the Bellwether roasts its coffee beans and perfumes the air in the other room. Once the meeting finishes, they go back to packing boxes or monitoring the roaster.

It is what Tami Canaday, owner and founder of Wagon Coffee, always envisioned – a safe work environment for women working on their sobriety.

“That’s the biggest thing that we have learned in this recovery journey,” said Canaday. “It’s the ‘how can I be of service?’ That’s what keeps you sober.”

It is through a need to be of service and a deep love for coffee that Wagon Coffee began. Even though its product is eco-friendly and sustainable coffee, the shop’s mission is to inspire and guide women in recovery to stay on the wagon, a subject close to Canaday’s heart.

Will there be coffee?

Canaday understands just how difficult the journey towards recovery can be. She watched her husband, Ryan, work on his sobriety for the past nine years. She recalled the first two years being particularly challenging. “It is tough stuff,” she said. “You got to show up and you gotta stay plugged in and do community.”

It was the sense of community that inspired her husband to start a recovery group. He wanted the meet-up to be on Saturday nights at their backyard porch. The meetings would be for addicts, loved ones of addicts and spiritual refugees. Upon hearing the idea, Canaday was on board but had one question — Is there going to be coffee?

She quickly realized that coffee is a big part of the recovery meetings. As a former barista who moved up the corporate ladder of the coffee industry, she decided to put her knowledge to good use: “I thought maybe I can take my experience from my past corporate world and integrate it into this recovery community. That was the very beginning of it.”

Canaday remembers serving the coffee at that first meeting. She roasted the beans in a small eight-ounce coffee roaster. It was the one thing she had never done before with coffee, but that didn’t stop her. Once the meeting began, the freshly brewed coffee was served.

It wasn’t long after that moment that the meetings evolved into their non-profit FREE, and Canaday started her business with a tiny roaster and a desire to help.

The purpose of recovery is the thread that connects everything at Wagon Coffee. Each product’s name draws inspiration from the journey. A Colombian roast is called Recovery and the Brazilian medium roast is called Be the Wagon. The list goes on – Resilience, Sober Christmas and Clean & Sober are just a few of the options.

Coffee with a purpose

Founder Tami Canaday with a part-time employee.

For a few years, Canaday entertained the idea of going commercial. After all, business was booming and orders were coming in from all over the state. But there was only so much the tiny roaster could do.

However, it wasn’t until Canaday learned more about how much the recovery community was suffering during the pandemic in 2020 that she gave it a second look. She learned that the struggle was growing heavily amongst women. According to the CDC, 8% of women aged 18 to 25 years have an alcohol disorder. On top of that, heavy drinking increased 41% in women during 2020.

The more she learned, the more she knew her goal would be to employ and guide women through their recovery journey. Wagon Coffee currently employs three women and various volunteers. They are required to be at least six months sober in order to work.

Additionally, the staff takes great pride in making a product that is eco-friendly and sustainable, from the farmers they source the beans from, to the materials to store them, to the zero-emissions Bellwether roaster.

Canaday believes this makes people want the coffee even more. “They think ‘this is going back to something way bigger than myself.’ Because it has so much heart, people have said from the beginning that it just tastes better.”

The future of a cup of coffee

White Coffee Wagon Coffee

Wagon Coffee currently carries over 12 varieties of coffee beans in its online store. They range from dark roasts from coffee farms in Indonesia to the lightest roast made from Brazilian beans.

However, soon the coffee will be more readily available in Denver. The company is moving on November 6 from Greenwood Village to the city near Evans Ave.

The future plans include opening a café called FREE, just like their non-profit. The café, scheduled to open in January 2022, will seek to employ people in recovery and continue to create a safe environment to share their stories. Canaday’s hope is that the employees will bestow that kindness and knowledge onto others.

“It’s really just about passing the torch,” she said, “and allowing them to continue to pass it onto each other and share their sobriety stories.”

To learn more or purchase from Wagon Coffee Roasters, visit the official website.

All photography provided by Wagon Coffee Roasters.