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Red Frog Coffee wants to take staff overseas

The team has raised half the funds thanks to a generous donation.
Emily Zalewski and two baristas are ready to take a trip of a lifetime to Japan

Red Frog Coffee owner Emily Zalewski launched a fundraising campaign to send eight baristas to Japan.

She chose Japan because Jason Kelly, Zalewski’s brother and cofounder of the coffee shop, lives there. While Kelly was visiting the coffee shop over the summer, he shared his experience with the staff. This inspired Braelyn Juelke to propose that the entire staff visit Japan together.

Zalewski said she was surprised when Juelke returned a few days later to report that she had everyone on board with the plan. Knowing she would not be able to keep the shop open, Zalewski agreed to close Red Frog’s doors for a week in February and join the team on the trip. 

To cut costs, the team will stay with Kelly while in Japan. They are already looking for a coffee shop that will allow them to work alongside them for a day to learn the differences between how the two cultures make and serve coffee. 

Knowing the staff make very little in wages and tips, Juelke took it upon herself to help her coworkers out. She first set up a donation jar at the end of the counter that allows patrons of Red Frog to choose to donate. The team also created online options for donations.

Juelke also organized a team dinner and put together a budget plan that would allow each barista the opportunity to save enough money for the trip.

Having read the story first reported by the Longmont Times-Call, Simon Chen, owner of Eight Black, contacted Zalewski to see how he could help. 

Chen and his staff serve the needs of many world travelers, he said and travel often and know first-hand the challenges and benefits of global travel. 

“I always want to support that (travel) because my own kids have been fortunate enough to travel,” Chen said. “Especially at a young age, it’s good for kids to get a different perspective. Travel opens your mind and you learn about other cultures.”

Drawn by Red Frog’s story, Eight Black donated enough airline miles, accrued through staff travel, to purchase three of the coffee shop’s six tickets. 

“I think it is a good way for two local businesses to work together,” Chen said. “We just think it’s a good way for companies to get behind each other and help a younger generation and staff to fulfill a dream.”

Some of the baristas at Red Frog have never traveled outside the country and none of the eight baristas have been to Asia, Zalewski said. So far, the shop has raised $2,000 in donations. Its original goal was to raise $12,000 to pay for airfare. With Chen’s help, three tickets have been purchased which brings the group to over half its goal, Zalewski said. Each member of the team has until Thanksgiving to make a final decision on the trip so that plane tickets can be purchased by Dec. 15. Zalewski is hoping that they are able to raise enough money or airline mile donations by then so the baristas will be able to make the trip.

“I didn’t expect to get such generous donations,” Zalewski said adding that the entire team were overwhelmed with gratitude that there was not a dry eye in the coffee shop.


Macie May

About the Author: Macie May

Macie May has built her career in community journalism serving local Colorado communities since 2017.
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