Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op began in 1995 as the brainchild of a small group of friends (hence the name “Just Us!”). The founders had little in the way of business experience or resources, but they shared an interest in owning their own business and promoting fair trade, which was still a relatively novel idea at the time.
From its humble beginnings, the co-op has grown considerably and now has three locations in Nova Scotia, while also selling its coffee, tea, chocolate, and other merchandise in Atlantic Canada Sobey’s locations and its own online store. It may not be a small-time operation anymore, but it’s remained true to its founding values, something that was key to attracting and retaining long-time member Frank Bezanson-Harris. Bezanson-Harris, who began his career with Just Us! as a barista about 16 years ago and now holds a custom-built role where he “wears many hats”, had wanted to see what working in a worker co-op was like, and discovered it was an ideal fit.
“We’re a social justice-based organization, so it’s one that you can wholeheartedly believe in what you’re doing, and that’s refreshing and nice and very rewarding in itself,” he says, “and the other is that being a co-op I find also means that what you put in you also get out, so if you want to get into new roles or invest yourself in different things in the co-op, the co-op supports that, and looks to cultivate and grow its members.”
Although he’s found working for Just Us! a rewarding experience, Bezanson-Harris doesn’t gloss over the challenges the co-op has experienced. He acknowledges the rapid growth Just Us! experienced presented some obstacles, as did getting people to understand the differences inherent in the worker co-op model.
“Most people don’t come into a co-op really understanding what it means to be in a worker co-op and how they need to engage and offer themselves,” he says, “and too often I find people come in with a more corporate mentality, expecting that the owners or the original founders are going to solve all the problems, when with the co-op model the advantage is that everyone at the table is able to bring their skills and knowledge to help move it forward.”
But amidst the challenges, Bezanson-Harris says, opportunities for learning have also arisen. He cites the need to take calculated risks and the importance of communication as two insights he’s gained in his time with the co-op, and hopes to put them to use in fulfilling Just Us’s goal of growing the local co-op sector. Just Us! may have outgrown its modest origins, but it’s still working to fulfill the other meaning embedded in its name: that if we are to make true progress in this world then there can be no “Us and Them”, just us.