Sierra Business Council uses monthly events to highlight local community conscious businesses

Many know Calaveras County for its vibrant environment, tight-knit community atmosphere and myriad small businesses. The Sierra Business Council, a nonprofit agency focused on community sustainability throughout Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, works to bring these three characteristics together each month at their regular Green Drinks events.

Green Drinks is an international phenomenon started in 1990 by a green design group in London who got together for some drinks and conversation at a local pub and decided to make a movement out of it.

“It was a nice gathering, and we always encouraged people to invite others, so you never knew who would be there … great connections were made and cool ideas were had,” said Edwin Datschefski, Green Drinks founder, on his website.

A year and a half ago the Sierra Business Council started its own Green Drinks chapter for the Central Sierra Nevada. Each month the informal event is hosted by a local business in Calaveras or Tuolumne county.

“It’s really about having conversations about our community,” said Emily Dondero, Sierra Business Council energy associate and Green Drinks organizer.

“We talk about creating sustainable communities through the support of local businesses,” she said.

This past Tuesday, Green Drinks was held in Murphys at a new downtown coffee shop, Gold Country Roasters on the corner of Scott and Grove streets.

Gail Bunge and Lisa Schwartz recently purchased the business, formerly titled Gold Country Coffee Roasting Company, from Matt and Suzan Cullen.

“We’re very lucky to have them (Matt and Suzan), they’ve taught me the whole process of roasting from start to finish,” said Bunge’s husband, Ted, who roasts beans on-site for Gold Country Roasters.

Schwartz, who characterized herself as a victim of the recent recession, attended a Sierra Business Council workshop focused on increasing community revenue through the establishment of energy efficient green businesses. She credited SBC for inspiring her “entrepreneurial spirit” and giving her the confidence to open Gold Country Roasters.

“Sierra Business Council lit the fire,” she said, referring to her initiative to start the store.

The event was casual and attendees rolled into the modern coffee shop at a comfortable pace to share conversation, ideas and sample different offerings from Gold Country Roasters’ drink and pastry menu. Event members filtered in and out of a side room housing the shop’s large old-fashioned roasting machine and burlap bags filled with coffee beans.

Discussion centered on innovative ways of improving the business including providing coffee grounds for compost, expanding sales into the retail market and providing a “community hangout” where customers can enjoy quality coffee drinks, free wifi Internet access, live music and browse art on display.

“This event (Green Drinks) is a great networking opportunity, we enjoy talking about how we can all work together,” commented Bill Soest of Evergreen Technologies, who installed Gold Country Roasters’ LED light system.

That collaborative mindset was apparent as Soest explained the benefits of energy efficient appliances to the packed coffee shop, noting that sustainable business practices can help small businesses cut their bottom line while contributing to the health of the environment.

Towards the end of Soest’s presentation Bunge thanked community members for their support, giving a nod toward District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway, who was in attendance.

“Everybody in the county has been so helpful,” Bunge said.

Dondero was pleased with the Green Drinks turnout and is already considering next month’s venue.

“We’ve had a really good following and there are some really cool businesses in both counties,” she said.

Gold Country Roasters is at 78 Scott St., Murphys. Business hours are from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

For more information on the Sierra Business Council and the Green Drinks program, contact Emily Dondero at