Doughnut Girl Coffee provides a different kind of pick-me-up

John Wochko
John Wochko is just getting started at Doughnut Girl Coffee. He says after a life of addiction and making bad choices he is ready to follow a new, more positive life path.
MPR Photo/Roseanne Pereira

Alan Krohnke doesn't just drink coffee, he makes it.

His roastery plant is a room full of big metal machinery.

But there's more than simple coffee roasting going on at Roastery 7.

Coffee packages
Some of the coffee packages ready for filling at Roastery 7.
MPR Photo/Roseanne Pereira

"We founded the company on the premise that we would measure our success monetarily of course, so we could run our business and make a living," says Krohnke. "But also on the impact we could have on the rest of the world and the kind of citizens we could be."

Since the beginning, Roastery 7 has supported social causes. 100 percent of profits from one of its brands, Rock Solid, goes to supporting youth service programs.

Now, the coffee guys here have teamed up with the Salvation Army. They've created a new brand, Doughnut Girl Coffee, to support the work of the Salvation Army rehabilitation center. And, this time, there's a new ingredient.

Doughnut Girl Coffee employs people considered unemployable. It gives people in treatment for drug and alcohol addiction -- a chance to gain job skills.

Salvation Army Recovery Center Administrator, Bill Price, believes such skills are critical.

"A man's value to a great extent is tied into their ability to be productive," Price says. A man's downfall is when they feel like they can't do anything or they're not doing anything useful. Then, the despair and addiction kicks in again.

"I've spent most of my life as a drug addict and a failure, and you know, now to come in here and hang out with these guys is a privilege."

In the labeling room of the roastery, John Wochko is at his first day on the job for Doughnut Girl.

"I put these labels on the back of the coffee, so people know where the profits go."

In time Wochko will learn different aspects of the coffee business, including how to roast beans and market the product. All this adds up to a new start for Wochko, a self-confessed crack addict who has spent years in prison.

"I've spent most of my life as a drug addict and a failure, and you know, now to come in here and hang out with these guys is a privilege," Wochko says.

The guys Wochko refers to include David Ophaug, the Director of New Initiatives for the Salvation Army.

Besides the spiritual community the Salvation Army provides, Ophaug says there's another community supporting people like Wochko, the business community. Already area businesses have helped promote the coffee line and create its logo. Ophaug believes it's worth it for businesses to get involved.

"There are businessmen out there that see the value of getting him into their company, getting him trained, getting them skills in the market today," Ophaug says.

The Roaster
The coffee roaster at Roastery 7. The company, which roasts several brands of coffee, measures its success in more than purely financial terms.
MPR Photo/Roseanne Pereira

Rather than spending tax dollars on jails and further incarceration, Ophaug says, spend money on future employees. The Minnesota Department of Corrections says it costs over $29,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Ophaug estimates it's already cost taxpayers close to $500,000 to incarcerate Wochko. He says, it makes financial sense to keep him out of jail.

"If not, he's back in prison again, and we spend another half million dollars while we figure out what to do with him."

Job training is nothing new for the Salvation Army. Many of its clients work at its well-known thrift stores or drive trucks to pick up donations. But Doughnut Girl Coffee offers the chance to work in a regular business, outside the Salvation Army system. They work right alongside people like coffee-lover Alan Krohnke.

Krohnke warns, the coffee business is kind of addictive itself.

"Once you fall in love with coffee and coffee gets in your veins, it's hard to get out of it, you are stuck," Kronhke says.

But he hopes, this addiction may lead to permanent jobs, a viable product, and a drink thousands wake up to each morning.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.