On the Go Jo is on a mission to uplift and empower women in all facets of the coffee industry. Founders Toni Dale, Crystal Graham and Quiana Deberry started their company to bring their love of specialty coffee to Chicagoans, with a mobile coffee cart and pop-up events. Since then, On the Go Jo has grown to online sales to reach more customers and highlight women in coffee, as they exclusively work with women managed and owned farms. We talked with Toni and Crystal about this journey, how we all can support women in coffee, and where their hard work is taking On the Go Jo next!
Can you tell us more about when you started to get passionate about the world of coffee?
Toni: I don’t have a traditional coffee background, I didn’t work in the coffee industry prior to On The Go Jo. I’m a coffee lover, and my love for craft/specialty coffee expanded while we were building On The Go Jo. I’m a self proclaimed coffee snob now (lol). Crystal and I have both turned our husbands into coffee snobs and well. We are regularly doing cupping and tasting at home or on FaceTime together, and we enjoy incorporating our families into our process.
You started with a mobile coffee cart bringing speciality coffee to Chicago-area events! How was this idea born, and how was it received by your community?
Crystal: My partner Toni and her husband were on a getaway and visited a cafe while there. Toni quickly called us with the idea to open a brick and mortar cafe in Chicago. We were super excited to bring the three of our skill sets together, but quickly realized that the brick and mortar route would be a big investment. It sounds cliché but one day while walking home alongside my neighborhood park, the idea came to me to do a mobile coffee cart and have pop-up events. Toni and I both love events, so the idea of bringing together coffee to various events was an exciting one for all of us. From there, we started the process of fabricating our cart, working on our recipes, branding, sampling, and so much more.
When did you decide to take your business from mobile to online sales?
Crystal: The idea was born in 2019 as a way to expand our brand and reach customers outside of our events. We purchased a home roaster and I would roast, and send samples to Toni and Quiana to taste. Which was super fun by the way! In 2020, we took the down time to dive more into our retail business and continued the process of sampling coffees (over 30+), working on our packaging, and developing our brand messaging and purpose.
Your mission is to inspire and empower women both locally and globally through coffee. When did it click for you that this was to be the focus of On the Go Jo, and why is it so important to empower and uplift women in the coffee industry?
Crystal: Through our research we saw that this was a need. It’s rare that you hear about women farmers or women in coffee in general. Why is that? We want to be a part of changing that!
Toni: I don’t think I truly began to understand the full extent of gender gaps throughout the entire supply chain until we became fully immersed in the research for the retail line. We began to see that women do most of the labor on the farms, yet it’s rare that they own the land. We wanted to highlight women throughout the entire supply chain and bring them to the forefront and pay homage to their contributions.
Can you tell us more about how you find and connect with the women who grow, produce, roast, and ship your coffees? Who are your featured producers right now?
Crystal: Yes, we have built relationships with importers, that help us exclusively source women owned and/or managed farms. From there, we learn more about their story and mission. It’s important that we support initiatives that are working to help make an impact in the lives of their workers so we partner with organizations that do just that. We then bring in the samples to roast, and after we get the right profile, we then package and ship in-house.
You can learn more about our farmers here.
What does your current line-up of products, in addition to coffee look like, and what do you hope to build upon and add in the future?
Toni: We are currently featuring three single origin coffees (Brazil, Rwanda,Burundi), and a blend (Burundi/Rwanda). We also carry all natural simple syrups. Our seasonal flavor is brown sugar cinnamon. We also offer non-caffeinated options for tea lovers -- our loose leaf teas smell amazing and they taste delicious! We are on a mission to scour the globe and continually search for delicious women produced coffees that our customers would love. I’m really excited about our founder’s blend which we plan to launch this spring. It’s amazing, and we can’t wait to share it with our customers.
What can we all be doing to help put more focus on women in all facets of the coffee industry?
Crystal: I love this question. There are so many ways we can all be more intentional in our support. Support women farmers, post a nice review on Yelp of your local woman-owned coffee shop and/or barista, share a social media post supporting a woman in coffee, support businesses that empower women in coffee so we can continue to do this work, and my favorite, which would be support through partnerships.
Toni: Diversity and Inclusion is a huge focus for so many organizations. Please encourage your employer, church, local cafe or grocery store to diversify their coffee suppliers. It would mean so much for a woman owned coffee company and you get access to amazing coffee -- it’s a win win!
What is your ultimate dream for On the Go Jo?
Crystal: To create something inspiring for others. To leave an imprint in the coffee industry and in the world. To create a household name; something our children can be proud of.
Toni: My ultimate dream would be to open The On The Go Jo Roastery.
Can you tell us about your own, individual, coffee routines? How do you most like to enjoy your coffee?
Crystal: I surprisedly tend to drink coffee later in the afternoon. I am not an a.m. coffee drinker. I think that’s why I had to name one of our coffees Out of Office. I love to drink coffee more socially, and as a way to indulge and unwind.
Toni: I drink a latte every morning. I fire up the stove, throw on my Moka pot, froth some oat milk, and enjoy a latte to get my day started.