A few weeks ago, the WWRC team met up with Quincy and Whitni Henry, owners of Campfire Coffee, at Dash Point State Park. As a WWRP-funded site that is a favorite spot for Quincy and Whitni’s family, Dash Point felt like the perfect place to chat about the importance of access to the outdoors. Over coffee and doughnuts, we learned about how the couple formed Campfire, which brings together their love of coffee, community, and the outdoors.
For Quincy and Whitni Henry, spending time in the outdoors and building community has always been a fact of life. Whitni grew up in Alaska, soaking in outdoor experiences, and Quincy grew up in Federal Way, where an outdoor school trip set a lifelong love of the outdoors into motion. Their love story is full of memories backdropped by Washington’s natural landscapes. Over the years, they have shared their knowledge and love for the outdoors with their family and friends, responding to first-time camping hesitations with an encouraging “Come on, let’s go,” and gear restrictions with, “That’s OK, we’ve got three tents, come on, let’s go, we can do it.” Today, they have built their business, Campfire Coffee, around their shared love of coffee, the outdoors, and bringing people in.
They came up with the idea for Campfire on a drive home from visiting Whitni’s family in Utah. Campfire Coffee, based in Tacoma, is a place where people can buy reasonably-priced coffee whose sales often contribute to local organizations focused on improving access to outdoor recreation. Campfire Coffee also has a nonprofit, the Campfire Explorer’s Club, which offers a gear library for folks to borrow outdoor gear at no cost and hopes to offer group seminars and outdoor activities once the COVID situation improves.
We’re excited to share that the WWRC will be partnering with Campfire Coffee on a fundraising campaign. We had the chance to sit down with Whitni and Quincy to chat about the Campfire story – it’s one that resonates deeply with our vision at WWRC for every resident to be able to play in and enjoy nature in whatever way suits them. In the next month, Campfire will release the Connect Outdoors Blend, and a portion of the proceeds will go towards supporting the Coalition. You can get your caffeine fix and support access to Washington’s outdoors in a single purchase.
From our conversation, it was clear that Quincy and Whitni are people who want to bring folks in and make experiences, both in coffee and the outdoors, inviting and accessible. Whether single-origin pour overs are your jam, or drip with cream and sugar – whether you enjoy casual hikes, or high-intensity mountaineering – Campfire’s culture is one of celebrating a love for coffee and the outdoors however you like it – all of the above, and everything in between.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Roasting over a campfire is a very unique roasting method. How did you decide that this was going to be your roasting method and how does it connect to the Campfire identity?
Quincy: Many years ago, I used to be in marketing, and you would have companies that would have really cool services or products, but it would be a chore to explain what the brand name actually meant or came from. So, when we were working on the idea of a company, we wanted this whole idea of accessibility extended to the language around the brand. You might notice, if you look at our social media or our website, there’s not a whole lot of mention of the quality of the coffee. For a couple of reasons: one, I think that is a very arbitrary thing. Everybody sells coffee on quality, it’s not a battle you’re going to win or lose, it’s just something you’re going to take up space doing. Also, there’s something else to accessibility. You should make people feel like there’s an easy way to get connected through the language around the brand. We try to keep the language simple.
Whitni: The idea to roast over a campfire didn’t come until a few months [after deciding to open up Campfire]. And [Quincy]’s always been of the mind to not say anything when you’re doing something. So, I was sitting on this, that we’re going to open this coffee shop, mind you, very early stages, but I’m excited, I’m a sharer, I like to share. We didn’t tell our friends, we didn’t tell our parents. He’s like, “When you have a plan, you just put it into action, and if you talk about it, you might not be about it, so just get it done.”
I’m on the phone with [our friend Tawny], and she’s like, “What are you guys doing, what’s going on?” I had been injured at my job, and everybody didn’t want me to go back and I said, “We’re going to open a coffee shop. It’s going to be Campfire Coffee, it’s going to be great.” And she was like, “Well, have you guys thought about maybe roasting your own coffee over a campfire?”
I love what you were saying about the language being accessible to people and something people can relate to. It reminded me of a phrase I saw on your website that says, “We love a rich single origin and a fun blend, but if cream and sugar is how you roll, it’s how we roll.” To me, this sentence really shows how Campfire is about bringing people in. Can you tell us about your culture of community and inclusion and how that intersects with the outdoors?
Q: It’s just kind of who we are. Something I felt really confident about in the beginning from a marketing or brand messaging perspective was that we hit something on that drive up from Utah that was 100 percent who we are. We love the outdoors. In our personal lives, we’re always the ones hosting get-togethers (at least prior to the start of the pandemic), so it was always about bringing people in.
W: And never claiming to be experts or anything like that. I’m very like, “Let’s go outside. Come on, let’s go, let’s grab a tent, let’s go to Walmart and get whatever we can, whatever we can afford,” and people reply, “We’ve never been,” And I’m like, “That’s OK, we’ve got three tents, come on, let’s go, we can do it.” And so really just loving to be outside and loving to be outside with friends and family.
Q: It was also pretty evident to me that coffee and the outdoor industries are two spaces that have at some point throughout their history been pretty exclusionary. I had some of my worst experiences at these super hip, cool [coffee] shops at seven in the morning. You would get this elitist third wave coffee attitude thrown at you and it was like, “I just want a cup of coffee, man, give me a latte.”
This was the mid twenty-tens, early twenty-tens and third wave coffee was really hitting its stride. It was, “let’s educate you around…”
There’s a utility to coffee and learning about it is cool if that’s what you want to do, but usually people want a cup of coffee to wake up.
W: Brings people together
Q: There’s a community aspect that’s naturally built in with coffee, and it’s the same thing with the outdoor industry. 2016 or 2017 I worked on a product launch for REI, and I was given the role of the producer slash director of this product launch.
I got to work alongside REI’s social media team. I was just a contractor through the agency that had the contract. There was a woman named Lulu, she’s still working in the outdoor industry, though not with REI. Lulu was literally banging the table about diversity in the outdoors and how REI – not just REI, the industry as a whole, but REI being one of the leading companies in that space from a commercial standpoint – had aided this whole kind of “us versus them” or not even us versus them, but what would an outdoor ad look like in twenty-ten? It’d be a white dude on a mountain with a man-bun, and his backpack and he’s overlooking the canyon. That was the stereotypical look.
She was calling it out, and I’d never paid attention to it like that, but I was like, “oh, you’re right. This is legit. You guys have, either knowingly or unknowingly, really been homogenous in representing what it meant and what it looked like to be outdoors.” It didn’t look like women, it didn’t look like people of color, it didn’t look like people with disabilities, it looked like a bunch of cool, hip, ripped white dudes on a mountain. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but what about everyone else?
When we were formulating all the plans for Campfire to be what it was, we decided, well, there’s kind of two battles that we can pick to fight here and we can take on both of them. Us just being who we are, we can take on that representation, we can be that diversity, we can be that innovation just by showing up and we don’t have to make no big old declaration – we are the diversity. We’re here.
Can you tell us about Campfire Explorers Club?
Q: Yes. That’s the extension of what we were just saying. The explorer’s club was a way for us to differentiate that there’s the coffee side of what we do and there’s the outdoors side of what we do. And if we wanted to do the outdoors side, it made more sense for it to be structured as a nonprofit because we want to give to that.
The whole idea was to find a way to use the Campfire name and brand, as a way to say, we’ve got a gear library, we’re going to give away trips for families that want to get out, especially now. At the height of the pandemic, for people to find things to do, we were getting emails pretty regularly from families like ok, what do we do now, even the parks are closed. In a round-about way, it was also like we were unofficial guides for some families in the area on what to do now that their summer plans were ruined. They could no longer take their trip to Disneyland because Disneyland was closed, and then the state parks were closed, so people wanted to know what to do.
W: And that’s kind of what we wanted it to be. Pre-COVID we had all of these plans, all of these groups we would lead – group camping, group hiking, teaching families how to camp with kids (because we’ve done it, we have three kids). We wanted to be able to – at the coffee shop, hold groups and seminars and teach people and build guides to print out and we just really wanted to teach people how to be outside, how to enjoy it, even if you’re not the upscale, my tent is $500 – you can still be outside, you can still enjoy it with this list of things from an affordable store.
Q: That’s where the gear library came into play, and we’re building it, which is cool. We’ve gotten some donations from EVO, private citizens have donated used gear. The idea is, whatever your activity is, before you go out and invest whatever, that thousand dollars, try it out. You can check [gear] out for free, give it a go, it doesn’t hurt you, doesn’t cost you anything. That was the other thing, too, having the kids and seeing how every summer you had to renew the gear and how much it cost. Luckily, we were able to afford to do that, not every family can. We want to be able to make those experiences available. That guides how I think about when we expand in the future. Can we actually have an impact in this community that goes beyond being just another coffee shop on the corner? How can we get embedded and do good things to make sure that the public spaces remain public spaces, that people get these relationships with nature, and have those experiences, and trying to keep them super accessible. You might be rockin’ whatever you’re rockin’, but you’re out there, and you love it, and you’re enjoying it, and that’s what we hope to do – bring that to both the outdoors space and the coffee space.
With spaces opening up a little bit more and people getting more comfortable hanging out in groups, do you see starting to host these events? Or, you might have already started hosting these events.
W: We haven’t yet, but we’re putting feelers out there for people who have reached out in the past to check comfort levels. Now, numbers are back on the rise – just when you think you’re in the clear you’re really not. We want to do group hikes and group hiking and we want to do all of the things.
Q: In the meantime, to stay true to that, we’ve been doing coffee fundraisers with summer camps in the area to help kids get signed up through scholarships. While we build our thing we’re still trying to stay active. Because it’s all good, it’s all love, we just want to see that people are getting out there and having the opportunities and hopefully money isn’t the barrier – or your culture – or biases or norms aren’t the barrier.
Instead of just cutting a check, which you can always do, the fundraisers are not just for the raising money part, but also telling the story to an audience that may not know a certain organization or camp.
How did you learn about WWRC?
W: Something that we’re big into is working with people that align with our mission, our goal. It means more if we’re working with people who feel the way we feel about the outdoors, about getting people outside.
Q: It’s picking a battle and fighting it. We want to be able to fight a couple of battles that we care about and fight them. Hopefully, we’re able to make a difference. There’s also strength in numbers, we can’t do it alone, we’re just figuring it out. That’s the thing, we’re very open about – we haven’t been in coffee a long time, we’re not trying to go climb Mt. Everest tomorrow, so we’re not the hard core of the hard core in any of these spaces. I think we represent the average person. We see the importance in fighting those fights in both spaces.
I wonder what it would be like if I didn’t get the opportunity to go to camp as a sixth grader, or to go back to camp in high school as a high school leader. That was one of the things that kicked off the outdoor part for us too. I was still connected with my friends from camp that I went to in elementary [school] and as a high school leader, and I learned that our school district, Federal Way School District, was no longer sending those kids to the camp, and they hadn’t been for like a decade.
It was like, that’s crazy! That was always the highlight of the year was outdoor school. Now you’ve got a whole generation of kids that could’ve been like me, that had that impression on them, on what it means to be a good steward of public spaces, and enjoy it, and enjoy it safely and all of that. They don’t know. All they know is just getting in their phone and their device, and climbing, or hiking, or camping is not even on their radar. Not that it was really on mine, but obviously it made an impact on me, right?
It’s all about fighting the good fight. Fighting the fight, I think we’re a good fit to maybe win some battles there. We’ll see. It’s all a journey.
How can the average person support the work that Campfire is doing?
Q: Buy coffee! The more stuff we sell, the more that we can give back.
If people want to see their consumer habits go towards trying to better their community – and it’s not just us, there’s other companies doing other things that directly try to impact their neighborhood – that’s what we focus on, being conscious of where you spend your dollars.
I love how you described how you started off. It just kind of reminded me of when I started backpacking – it started off very primitively, we didn’t know what we were doing… We thought, we have all this stuff from home, we can just pack it in and see how far we can make it. We just tried things, and saw what worked, and a few years down the line, were like I know how to do this and we brought some friends, and built a party from there. Your story is very approachable, and I feel like it’s great for everyone to hear this because we can all relate – the origin of Campfire to something we’ve done in our lives. Thank you for sharing that.
Q: Absolutely. It has definitely been making do of what you got because we didn’t have anything. Didn’t even have coffee experience.
W: I sent him to work at Starbucks for six months so he could come back and teach me. We’ve always drank coffee, but we were K-cup coffee buyers, the stuff that was like s’mores K-cup, doesn’t even taste like coffee. I’ve always been cream and sugar, never, this is a pour over, you can’t add anything to it, it has to be this, it has to be that – drink it however you like it.
Q: That’s it. We have pour overs every morning, you doctor it up, with cream…
W: That’s what I like. I still like the coffee, I can tell the difference now that I’m drinking good coffee underneath that creamer, but always just come as you are, be who you are love what you love. Enjoy the outdoors.
Written by Laura Isaza