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 embargo.
Bridgehead became the first company in Canada to offer consumers fairly traded coffee. 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. Diversifying the product line to include handicrafts proved to be more troubling than expected. As sales revenues grew, profits dwindled then turned to losses.
In May 1998 Bridgehead underwent restructuring, culminating in new ownership by Shared Interest, a cooperative lending society based in the U.K. that specializes in financing the fair trade sector. Shared Interest held Bridgehead for one year in the interest of finding a buyer who could offer a future path for the company.
In the Fall of 1999 Shared Interest accepted an offer from Tracey Clark to purchase the name and return Bridgehead to its roots as a fairly traded coffee and tea company. In April 2000, Bridgehead (2000) Inc. was formed by three individuals with support from family and friends and on June 17, 2000 Bridgehead opened its flagship coffeehouse at 362 Richmond Rd. in Ottawa, Canada and renewed retail and wholesale sales of coffee and tea.
In June of 2012, Bridgehead opened its own Roastery and now roasts all of its coffee in-house. The Roastery imports green beans from co-ops all over the world and roasts about 6,000 lbs of fairly traded, organic coffee every week. The coffee is used in all of the Ottawa coffeehouses as well as sent to a variety of wholesale customers and online customers all across Canada.
Our story isn't just our story. It’s the story of hundreds of small-scale farmers who supply us with amazing coffees. Of tea pluckers who carefully pick two leaves and a bud. It’s the story of baristas and bakers who rise early and who are passionate about quality, their craft, and love to serve. It’s the story of local farmers who supply us with milk, cream, eggs, honey, beef, and all matter of produce. It’s the myriad stories of customers who visit us for more reasons than we could name but who all share in common appreciating that caring makes a difference. And that is our real story— an immense sense of caring and appreciation—that connects all of us, nourishes us and makes us feel a part of something larger than ourselves, a community.