July 17, 2017

Couple hopes to sell Ecuadoran café to employees

In this provided photo, Josh and Andra Carter (center, rear) are shown with their employees. The couple hopes to sell their La Cosecha cafe to employees before moving back to Vermont.

After six years making Otavalo, Ecuador, their home, the couple is returning to Josh’s home state of Vermont. But before they do, they have one last goal before they leave — sell their little café and bakery, La Cosecha.

And the Carters are hoping — through a crowdfunding campaign — to be able to sell it to their seven employees.

To do that, though, they need to raise $100,000 on IndieGoGo (igg.me/at/LaCosechaEcuador) by the end of the month.

That’s just enough money to pay off what’s owed on the business.

“Probably doing a traditional sale to a single owner would be the easiest thing and financially the best thing for us,” Josh Carter said in a phone interview from Otavalo.

But raising the money is important to the couple, who want to repay their loyal employees in a country where it’s not always easy to make a living, let alone take out a loan and own your own business, he said.

The Carters pay their employees a sustainable wage and health care, and provide a safe working environment. Josh said in many respects, the café has become the employees’ second home.

Selling the business the traditional way would likely result in the new owner hiring his own family and friends, leaving the current staff without jobs, Josh said.

“I really want to try to, first of all, give them this opportunity to have the café,” he said. “And I know they’ve been working the past three years and they know the business and they know what it takes.”

When the Carters were married eight years ago they decided to start their new life in another country, one that Josh said offered “a simpler life.” After doing a lot of research, they settled on Otavalo in northern Ecuador.

At the time Josh, a native of Randolph who grew up in Moretown, was working for a solar company in Connecticut, while Andra, a New Jersey native, was working for L‘Oreal, the French cosmetics company.

Six years ago they moved to Otavalo, a town of nearly 40,000 in the Andean highlands. The town is encircled by volcanos but is best known for its central market in the Plaza de Ponchos, where merchants sell a variety of crafts and artisanal food products.

What was missing in this town that has become a tourist attraction, was a coffee shop that would attract visitors and natives alike.

Surprisingly, despite the area’s rich coffee heritage, Josh said the locals for the most part drank instant coffee.

“I had thought about the café because Ecuador also produces great-quality coffee,” he said.

So, three years ago the couple opened La Cosecha to serve the local population and the thriving tourist market.

The café and bakery serves American (filtered) coffee; espresso; homemade bread, including bagels; sandwiches and pastries.

Located on the edge of the market, the adobe-style building with its white interior, wood beams, dark wood furniture and native plants, is a place where people just kick back and relax, he said.

La Cosecha has garnered enough rave reviews that it’s a Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor top pick.

Although the café has been a huge success, Josh, 32, said after six years it was time to move back to Vermont, where his family lives. He also said he and his wife miss the American culture and language, and some of the modern conveniences of American life.

But before the couple returns to Vermont, they want to make a concerted effort to make the crowdfunding campaign a success.

“The $100,000 is to pay off loans and the cost of the sale, and that’s all I would want, because that’s all I’m concerned with,” he said. “I’m OK taking a financial loss personally if it means giving it to the employees.”

For the employees to take out a loan of that size in Ecuador would be extremely difficult, Josh said. He said the interest rates are high and loans are usually made in much smaller amounts.

If the crowdfunding isn’t successful, Josh said they would put the business up for sale on the open market and “do what we can to sell it to people who respect the employees.”

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