Savannah’s Sentient Bean Celebrates Twenty Years Of Coffee and Culture

Many years ago we were fortunate to run into Kristin Russell, a woman passionate about coffee, farmers, sustainability, and community. Fast-forward twenty years and Kristin’s labor of love, The Sentient Bean, is one of our closest partners and a fixture in the Savannah community. What has been the secret of the Bean’s success? Read our interview with her below and then wish them a happy anniversary!

Café Campesino: You all have been serving up incredible coffee and community for 20 years! How does that feel?

Kristin Russell: When I have the time to step back and think about it- it feels pretty great! It doesn’t seem to me like I’ve been doing it that long but then as I see kids I remember coming in with their parents when they were little bringing in their children- I realize I’ve been at this awhile. I also realize that the Bean has a life of it’s own now, which has been a really important part of helping me through the pandemic. 

CC: What compelled you to want to start a coffee shop 20 years ago?

KR: I wasn’t doing anything else more important, haha. The desire to be a model of responsible business started with my near panic concern with the consumer culture of disposability. I was good at hosting parties so I figured a cafe wouldn’t be so different. Coming from a farm- I liked the idea of working for myself. Part of the plan was also to engage people around our ideas about important issues (fair trade, organic produce, environmental sustainability etc), but truly building community means the community gets to set the agenda. Over the years- sustainability has continued to be a big motivator for me but the Bean’s constituents have brought all manner of progressive ideas to center stage. 

Savannah's Sentient Bean Celebrates Twenty Years Of Coffee and Culture 1

CC: How has being in the gorgeous city of Savannah contributed to your success?

KR: Moving to the Southeast and in particular beautiful Savannah was not entirely an accident. We didn’t know just how great our timing was in terms of Savannah’s growth and our neighborhood’s development. Our spot on Forsyth Park is pretty great and the fabulous mix of people coming through the doors definitely contributes to our vibe

CC: How did you run into Café Campesino? And does this story involve a roving VW microbus?

KR: Once we know we wanted to use Fair Trade coffee- we looked up certified roasters (a fairly new certification at the time) and saw that there was a cluster in New England, a few on the West coast and one roaster in south central Georgia! We chased down Cafe Campesino first at a rainy School of the Americas protest where the tiny crew was way too busy to take us seriously, but our second engagement was in Atlanta where we did a cupping in a parking lot- spitting on the ground. I do seem to remember there being a bus around but I can’t say that is was formative from my perspective. Sorry!

Savannah's Sentient Bean Celebrates Twenty Years Of Coffee and Culture 2

CC: What are you most proud of accomplishing in your 20 years in business?

KR: I feel like I should say the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on fair trade, organic coffee, and local and organic produce… and I am proud of that. But to be perfectly honest- I am most proud of all the great staff I have gotten to know over the years and how much they learned and matured while working at the Bean- learning about team work, work ethic, social issues, independent business and generally becoming better citizens. Learning about all the awesome things so many of them have gone on to accomplish makes me really proud. 

CC: What does the next 20 years look like for Sentient Bean?

KR: Super hard to say in the midst of such upheaval but assuming the center holds… My domestic partner and I purchased the natural foods market next door and we are slowly merging our prepared foods operations. The long-term plan is to grow an in-house food label (Brighter Bean) and really move toward selling a lot more take-home prepared foods through the market. I’ve been on a roller-coaster about events but having been deprived of them for over a year now – I’m excited to bring them back in a way that gives our community even more control over what’s on stage. As the median income of this neighborhood continues to rise and our density increases- our commitment to being open, attractive, and accessible to everyone will continue to be challenging but I’m up for it. 

If you are in Savannah please consider stopping by the Bean and celebrating with them. As for us at Café Campesino, we are raising a big steaming mug to them. Here’s to twenty more years!

September 23, 2021
BY Matt Earley
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