Bridgehead emerges as a grassroots movement in support
of Nicaraguan farmers
Two United Church ministers and two social activists concerned for the
prospects of small-scale coffee farmers in Nicaragua formed
Bridgehead Trading in 1981. These farmers were contending with
formidable odds: the pressure to trade through 'coyotes' or
intermediaries (often local traders or moneylenders who exploited
growers); a civil war; and the restrictions of a U.S. trade
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Bridgehead becomes the first company in Canada
to offer consumers fairly traded coffee
Bridgehead imported, roasted, and distributed
coffee purchased directly from small-scale farmers according to fair
trade principles. A devoted group of volunteers sold Bridgehead
coffee from Toronto church basements and interest spread rapidly.
With headquarters in Toronto, Bridgehead 'fairly traded' coffee was
well received by consumers, and within three years the business
outgrew its informal structure and voluntary management.
In 1984 Oxfam-Canada acquired the business and formally
incorporated Bridgehead as a federal, for-profit company.
Oxfam-Canada, an international development agency, sought to bring
more fairly traded products to market and to share the stories of
the small-scale artisans and farmers who made the products.
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Bridgehead extends its product line from handpicked coffee to handicrafts
While fairly traded coffee remained Bridgehead's most important product,
including sales to wholesale markets, a decision to diversify the
product line was made. Fairly traded handicrafts were purchased from
over 100 small-scale groups of artisans and farmers in over 50
countries. Bridgehead became a predominantly retail player,
distributing a mail order catalogue in Canada and the U.S., and
operating retail stores in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. Annual
sales grew to $6 million and Bridgehead boasted a mailing list of
200,000 active names.
But diversifying product lines proved to be more troubling than
expected. As sales revenues grew, profits dwindled then turned to
losses. Bridgehead was left with too much inventory and too little
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Bridgehead returns to its coffee roots
In May 1998 Bridgehead underwent restructuring, culminating in new
Shared Interest, a cooperative lending society based in the U.K.
that specializes in financing the fair trade sector. Shared Interest
(U.K.) purchased the assets through a newly formed company, Bridgehead
Shared Interest sought to turn Bridgehead around but
soon determined that without focusing its product offering and attracting
new investment to support it, Bridgehead could not survive.
They determined that the best option was for Bridgehead to return to its
coffee roots. Coffee was Bridgehead's first product, and it accounted for
more than a third of Bridgehead's sales in 1999. In November 1999 Shared
Interest dissolved Bridgehead (1998) Inc. and permitted management to
return Bridgehead to its roots as a fairly traded coffee and tea company.
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Bridgehead opens its flagship coffeehouse in Ottawa
In April 2000, the rights to Bridgehead (1998) Inc. were sold to
Bridgehead (2000) Inc., a company formed by two members of Bridgehead's
management team. On June 17, 2000 Bridgehead opened its flagship
coffeehouse in Ottawa, Canada and renewed retail and wholesale sales of
coffee and tea.
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Bridgehead expands its Ottawa-based cluster of coffeehouses and services
its customers across Canada with its ecommerce website and call centre.
Each year Bridgehead opens new coffeehouse locations to serve you better.
Click here to see a current listing of locations
Customers from across the country order our coffee, tea,
and cocoa throughout the year by visiting the Order Online
section of this website or by calling us at 1.800.565.8563.
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A Bridgehead Chronology
Bridgehead Trading is founded in a Toronto United Church.
Bridgehead Trading is incorporated as Bridgehead Inc.
Bridgehead Inc. is sold to Oxfam-Canada.
Some 12,900 pounds of green beans are imported directly from Encafe,
the Nicaraguan coffee marketing board and is processed in Canada by
Bridgehead for the first time.
Bridgehead produces its first catalogue, distributing 90,000 copies
across Canada. New partnerships are formed with artisans and
craftspeople to complement those affiliations with farming groups
and coffee growers.
Bridgehead attends the first conference of the International
Federation for Alternative Trade (IFAT) and becomes a founding
Bridgehead's first retail store is opened in downtown Toronto.
Bridgehead produces a spring catalogue for the first time.
In association with Oxfam-America, Bridgehead serves US customers
through its mail order catalogue.
Bridgehead introduces products from small producers in Africa,
First Nations communities and North American inner cities.
Bridgehead's Ottawa-based store is moved to Sussex Drive and a new
store is opened in Kitsilano, Vancouver. Bridgehead joins the Fair
Trade Federation and forms an alliance with the Canadian Auto Workers
Union Social Justice Fund.
Bridgehead enters into a partnership with Equal Exchange. Equal
Exchange supplies green beans imported directly from grower
cooperatives and roasts coffee for Bridgehead, permitting Bridgehaed to focus on distribution.
Bridgehead enters a restructuring process, culminating in new
ownership by Shared Interest, a cooperative lending society based in
the UK that specializes in financing to the fair trade sector.
In a final phase of restructuring, Bridgehead closes its retail
stores in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver in order to return the
company to its fairly traded coffee and tea roots. Shared Interest
transfers ownership of Bridgehead to the company's management team.
On June 17, 2000 Bridgehead opens its flagship retail coffeehouse
at 362 Richmond Road in Ottawa, Canada, and offers retail and
wholesale sales of premium coffees and teas.
Bridgehead opens a second coffeehouse at 108 Third Avenue in the Glebe, Ottawa.
Bridgehead opens a third coffeehouse at 366 Bank Street, Ottawa and a kitchen and warehouse facility to provide freshly made baked goods, soups, salads, and sandwich fillings daily to our coffeehouses.
Bridgehead opens its fourth coffeehouse at 1277 Wellington Street, Ottawa in August.
Bridgehead opens its fifth coffeehouse at 282 Elgin Street, in July.
Bridgehead opens its sixth and seventh coffeehouses at 109 Bank Street and 131 Beechwood Avenue respectively.
Bridgehead opens its eighth coffeehouse at 224 Dalhousie Street in March.
Bridgehead opens its eighth coffeehouse at 224 Dalhousie Street in March and ninth coffeehouse at 1172 Bank Street in September.
Bridgehead moves its 108 Third Avenue location to 750 Bank Street (@ 2nd Avenue) in December.
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We strive to be a positive demonstration of social and environmental sustainability for the Canadian coffee industry and beyond. We envision a cluster of Bridgehead coffeehouses in cities across Canada that offers the highest quality fair trade and organic coffees from small-scale farmers. We work toward this vision knowing that the quality of our products must be excellent and our customer service warm and engaged.
Bridgehead will continue to be a socially responsible business that delivers high quality products and service by ensuring that:
- Our coffees and teas are fairly traded
- Our coffees are shade-grown and organic; our loose and packaged teas are organic
- Our coffees are roasted to order, ensuring freshness and prompt delivery
- We emphasize grower independence and dignity by guaranteeing a fair price for farmers
- We follow transparent, accountable and ethical business practices
- We review our business practices on a regular basis in order to increase the positive impact of social and economic benefits for farmers, customers, and partners
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