Seeking refuge and community in a warm cup of coffee

Refuge Coffee Company aims to provide an inclusive and diverse community in their hometown, Clarkston, Georgia. Photo by Harry Wyman | The Signal

The life of a refugee is challenging. Forced to abandon their entire lives to flee war and disaster, refugees create an entirely new world for themselves and their families.

By recognizing the struggles of starting over, Refuge Coffee Co. operates to build unity and a supportive community.

Georgia has one of the highest intakes of refugees in the country, embracing 37,000 refugees over the last 25 years. 

The employees of Refuge come from around the world, including Sudan, Iran and Kenya. Many chose Clarkston county, the birthplace of Refuge Coffee Co., as their new home. 

Kitti and Bill Murray are the founders of Refuge. The couple didn’t see themselves as business owners, but after moving to Clarkston and witnessing refugees’ struggles, they knew they needed to do something to help.

During an interview with Atlanta Magazine in 2017, Kitti Murray described the beginnings of her business.

“The number one job refugees get [in Clarkston] is at a chicken processing plant one and a half hours away. It’s a survival job, not a thriving job,” Murray said. “Our goal is to provide jobs and job training for refugees, but it’s also to serve the community. We want to reflect the culture and flavors of the community, which is vastly varied.”

Along with being an inclusive coffee shop, Refuge serves as a nonprofit organization. The company handles employees’ living expenses and provides career tools to begin a new chapter in America. They offer English classes, a business mentorship program and entrepreneur training.

Coming from a refugee family, Omar Husseini described his appreciation for Refuge giving immigrants a fighting chance and opportunities to better themselves.

“My grandparents were forced to become refugees at a young age, so this place makes me smile every time I see it,” he said. “As a son of two immigrant parents, I know how hard the transition coming to the [U.S.] is. My parents always told me stories about the difficulties, and it can only be harder right now during a pandemic.”

Junior Anna Rashid lives in Clarkston county with her family. Inspired by the cafe, they regularly find themselves with a cup of coffee at Refuge.

“My first time experiencing Refuge Coffee, I instantly fell in love with the environment,” she said. “I immediately felt a warm welcome, especially after talking to the employees and learning about the purpose of the cafe.”

With locations in Clarkston and on Auburn Avenue, the coffee company has created a welcoming haven for those who lost nearly everything they had.

“The founders of the cafe have created a beautiful and safe environment for everyone who enters it,” Rashid said. “It’s a way to help refugees and immigrants get a job that can actually create a happy life for them and their families, as well as form a diverse community where anyone can go enjoy a cup of coffee.”