April 29, 2019

Telefono numero 1

I snapped this picture when visiting Montecarlos, the coffee farm on a volcano in El Salvador. If you’ve had coffee at Clover in the past few years chances are you tasted Montecarlos. George Howell (roaster) invited Christopher Anderson (head of food at Clover) and me to join him on a trip down there. I’m going to share more about that trip in upcoming posts. There will be 1/day for the next week or 2.

I’m going to talk a lot about coffee trees and flavors and smells and details of how coffee is grown.

But I’m starting with this phone. Telefono numero 1.

My memory of the trip is vivid: spectacular vistas and rising mist, juicy coffee fruit, the genuine openness and kindness of our hosts and farmers, and George Howell’s company. There were also many armed guards. The first we encountered at a gas station convenience store. Yup. A large weapon crossing the chest of a guard at a convenience store. It made me appropriately uncomfortable while I bought $1.87 sunglasses and $0.32 chips that looked like Doritos but had a dragon blowing fire on the bag. There were guards at the farm. Fences. Gates. Bullet-proof vehicles. Guard dogs. I heard the word peasant used. Accurately I guess. But it felt surprising.

It’s a complicated mix of emotions. And confusion. I understand some of what I’m seeing, but not all of it. It’s not my country.

It’s obvious that Carlos, who runs the farm, thinks deeply about his country and the future and is very conscientious. El Salvador is a poor country. Good jobs are scarce. Today there is a rash of crime related to drug trafficking.

Carlos comes from a family that has been in El Salvador for a long time with considerable property and influence. Many people who have his background have left El Salvador. Carlos didn’t.

Carlos went to school in the US. In the 1980s he was responsible for trading more kilos of coffee than anybody else on Earth. He was working as a trader in NYC. But he came back to El Salvador to try growing his own coffee. His family had some land that used to be a coffee plantation. They were the first to grow Pacamara coffee, a big deal in the industry. Over the years he has grown his farming operation substantially. He pays his farmers far above the wages of surrounding specialty farms. He invests capital in improving and growing the farm, and as a result his coffee sells at a higher price than the commodity market. That’s a good thing because the commodity market is at $1.00 right now and production alone in El Salvador costs $1.75/ lbs. More on that in later posts.

So back to Telefono no. 1. This was Carlos’ grandfather’s phone. His number was number 1. Which I can only guess means he was the first in his town? county? to have a phone! Carlos returned to El Salvador to restore a farm that had been in his family for 6+ generations. If Carlos hadn’t done that, there would be a lot of coffee jobs that wouldn’t exist, we wouldn’t have this beautiful coffee to fill our cups. And the virgin forest in the caldera of the volcano, one of the few left in El Salvador, may not have been protected.

We have simple questions we try to answer when we visit suppliers. How are things being done? Is the food being taken care of? Do I trust this person? Do they share our values? Are they caring for their land with a long-term vision? Are the people working here happy? Is this the best person for me to get Clover’s customer’s $ to?

Visiting El Salvador isn’t like visiting a farm in Western Massachusetts. It’s much more complicated in El Salvador. I had to ask a lot of questions to get to answers. And to be honest I don’t think I have perfect understanding of everything.

Carlos was great. I’m glad he’s doing what he’s doing and was deeply honored he shared it with me. His coffee is delicious. And coffee is intertwined with poverty and power, opportunity and history and global politics. These facts exist side by side in every delicious cup we drink.

George Howell tells me about coffee. But I’m distracted by the large gun behind him.

Recent Posts

November 29, 2023
I’m writing to share some news: we’ve decided to permanently close CloverROW, our outpost in the Assembly Row neighborhood of Somerville. The closure of this restaurant is part of the whole company’s focus on reaching financial sustainability and positioning us for future growth. These decisions are really hard, but they’re necessary steps for us to simplify Clover. And, happily, all the amazing staff at CloverROW, including the manager Joe, will be able to move into other Clover restaurants. The math is straightforward…
November 28, 2023
These sweet potato latkes date back to early days on the Clover food truck. They’re so yummy and the sweet potatoes lend them such a fun golden color. They’re probably the most popular item in our Hanukkah Meal Box, which you can get delivered on December 7th. Inside the box you’ll find: 
November 21, 2023
Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving. We will be closed Thursday 11/23 at all locations. For our kitchen team, it will be a good chance to rest after prepping a ton of Brussels casseroles for our Thanksgiving Box : ) As for the days surrounding Thanksgiving, we’ll be open normal hours, except for CloverFIN (Financial District) and CloverHSC (Harvard Science Center) which will be closed tomorrow and Friday. CloverHSQ (Harvard Square) will be closing early (at 8pm) tomorrow. 
November 16, 2023
I’m not a big believer in multitasking (which, in my experience, is doing a bunch of things simultaneously and badly.) But there’s a lot going on at Clover right now, so I had to break my No Multitasking Rule on Wednesday. I asked Michele and Greg on our Finance team if they’d mind if I took myself off video during a meeting to review Accounts Payable. “I have to draw a cartoon Delicata Squash,” I explained, reasonably.
November 16, 2023
Some of you have been asking for a sides-only box – and it’s true, sides are the best part, aren’t they? We’re making a limited number of boxes with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and King Brussels’ Casserole. Each Sides Box serves 6-8 people and can be delivered to your door for 11/21 or 11/22. 
November 9, 2023
The moment you’ve waited for is here. Western Mass Brussels sprouts are back in the restaurants, which means the King himself has landed! What’s on this glorious sandwich and why is it the King of all seasonal sandwiches? A dijon-mayo spread, smoked Grafton cheddar, fried Brussels tossed with za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend), pickled red cabbage, and toasted hazelnuts.
November 6, 2023
On Friday we had a company meeting with all our leadership to talk about a decision we’ve made about the future of Clover. We are all focused on putting Clover on solid financial footing so we can continue to make the food you love for many years to come. COVID changed everything for restaurants like us. The way we eat, drink, work, and get together has shifted substantially and, while Clover has seen a steady recovery in sales…
October 29, 2023
Julia here. Today, October 29, is Clover’s birthday! 15 years of perfect pita, crispy chickpea fritters, countless sandwiches that cycle with the seasons, and of course the occasional birthday cupcake. How lucky are we? Although I’ve been working at Clover for a year and a half, this was my first week as CEO. I’m excited and honored to be stepping into this role. I’ve been a Clover enthusiast for a long time – since my first taste of a Blue Oyster Mushroom sandwich as a grad student in 2013. As COO and now as CEO…
October 26, 2023
If you stop by tomorrow (Friday 10/27) around 11am, you might be treated to a bit of Clover history in the form of a carrot cupcake with buttercream frosting. One per paying customer, while they last! And they may not last long : )
October 26, 2023
A bunch of you have been asking, and yes, we are doing a Thanksgiving Box menu again this year, with all the favorites from years past – Hubbard Squash glazed with maple-Sriracha butter, mashed potatoes, gravy, Ayr’s dad’s walnut-mushroom patè, stuffing – there’s even a limited run of Petsi pies. Free delivery to your door if you’re within 30 miles of us. Click here to reserve yours.
October 22, 2023
I’ve recently asked somebody who believes in Clover as much as I do to step into the CEO role. Julia Wrin Piper has been Clover’s COO for the past 18 months and will take over running the company day-to-day. I’ll be shifting my efforts to provide support for Julia and the team, work on growth opportunities, and pursue partnerships that will amplify Clover’s mission. I’ll remain a member of the Board of Directors and active as an advisor and mentor. Clover is facing a potent mix of opportunity and challenge right now and I know Julia is exactly the right person to lead the team through these twists and turns.
October 18, 2023
On 10/29 Clover will turn 15 years old. It’s been 15 years since we first pulled up a tiny white food truck to the MIT campus in hopes of testing a menu that could make a dent in global warming. Since then we’ve supported so many local farmers; had tons of adventures on board trucks and restaurants; and met tons of wonderful customers. And most of all we’ve made food. Lots and lots of food. In honor of our 15th birthday, we sent out a survey asking you about your favorite LONG-LOST MENU ITEMS. We’ve picked the top results and we’re going to bring them back for one day only – in the form of a Birthday Meal Box!