Coffee and Inclusivity

In October 2021, Secretary Marty Walsh traveled to Rochester Hills, Michigan, to meet with students, small business owners and employers on the future of workforce development. He visited Lava Mountain Coffee, a small coffee shop that centers on inclusivity and accessibility. We caught up with owner Ziad Kassab and asked him to share more about his business.

Ziad Kassab, on the top row center, posing with a few of his employees at the coffee shop.
Pictured: Ziad Kassab (top row center) with employees at Lava Mountain Coffee.

1. What inspired you to open this coffee shop? 

I’ve always had a passion for coffee, mostly drinking it. I loved grinding my own beans in the morning. In 2016, I took a trip to the coffee capital of the world: Manizales, Colombia. While I was there, I fell in love not only with the scenery but the coffee and people as well. I learned about the process of coffee from bean to cup and also learned what makes ”specialty coffee” special. I began importing coffee and selling in supermarkets in 2017 but was quickly inspired to open my own store to give the brand a more in-depth image.

2. What do inclusion and accessibility mean to you in regards to running a business and employment? 

It means everything. When my youngest brother, Danny, was 7 years old, he was hit by a car and paralyzed from the neck down. I grew up in a medical environment with nurses and therapists in the house 24/7 to care for my brother. His accident led to our family becoming very familiar with how the healthcare industry works. Growing up in the industry not only with my brother but with so many that we served gave me a unique perspective on the importance of inclusion for all.

When I got the opportunity to open my own store, I knew I wanted to merge both my passions for coffee and helping people in health care together. This is what inspired our partnership with Dutton Farms and it has been a wonderful and fun journey and experience thus far!

3. What is your favorite part of running your own business? 

I enjoy team building, it drives home inclusivity and has always been a passion and a strength of mine. Assembling a team to execute a very special goal has always been a fun and exciting challenge for me.  

4. Any tips for employers trying to make employment/workspaces more inclusive? 

DO IT. Our special needs employees make our place unique, fun and full of love. It was an easy decision and one I will NEVER regret. It is good for business and for humanity. I believe God won’t ask you how much money you made when you get to the pearly gates. He won’t ask how big your house was but he will ask who you gave a place to sleep when they needed it. He won’t ask how fancy your car was but who you gave a ride to when they needed it, finally he won’t ask how fancy your clothes were but who you gave your jacket to when they were cold.

These are the things that matter most in life and I am proud of my team for executing on this vision and understanding the “bigger picture.”

5. What resources have you found to be helpful in running your business? 

We have had help from so many places as we’ve grown. We have a long way to go and more resources and education are always helpful, especially now as businesses across the country are struggling due to the pandemic, including a mom and pop shop like ours. 

Oakland County has been a great support, especially our county commissioners. Additionally, the Specialty Coffee Association of America has been insightful. My friends in Colombia are the most helpful in helping me source only the finest beans and work with me to import them directly to our store where they are roasted in-house in small batches to ensure the freshest highest quality coffee possible. This is what allows us to bring a specialty coffee experience to our local community. 

Editor's note: Interested in hiring qualified people with disabilities? Need information about workplace accommodations? Want to learn more about diversity and inclusion best practices? Visit the Office of Disability Employment Policy's website to get started.