Social Good

Deaf Can! Coffee: 10 ways to launch a successful social enterprise in Jamaica

Deaf Can! Coffee’s Fabian Jackson, Carlyle Gabbidon, Tashi & Blake Widmer

Maybe you’ve seen them wearing their branded t-shirts serving coffee at events around Jamaica. There are now three full-time and 25 part-time baristas working with Deaf Can! Coffee, just two years since the social enterprise launched. In that short time, founders Blake and Tashi Widmer have learned quite a lot about how to make a social enterprise work in Jamaica.

Based at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD) on Kingston’s Cassia Park Road, Deaf Can! has grown at a time when coffee culture is thriving on the island, as has awareness of social enterprises and their potential impact in Jamaica. Imagine if every wealthy church congregation followed their example and founded their own social enterprise employing youth? I chatted with Blake at Deaf Can’s third location, inside the Toyota Coffeehouse at the dealership on Old Hope Road…

Identify a business opportunity

“I think we are offering a product and a service that nobody else is by being able to deliver a pop-up service at an event with the equipment we have. Also, we’re tapping into an underutilised labour force which is the deaf community, there are a lot of people who don’t have a job or only work part-time and when we have an event we can send out a text and say, ‘Hey we have an opportunity to work at this event this weekend and it’s gonna be such and such hours’.” Continue reading


I am: Carlyle Gabbidon, Manager of Deaf Can! Coffee

deaf can coffee jamaica

Deaf Can! Coffee’s Carlyle Gabbidon is a 27-year-old barista who’ll roast and brew you a cup of the good stuff with more feeling, more flavour than anyone else in Kingston.

Our logo is the Jamaican Sign Language for “coffee,” two fists stacked on each other, with the top hand rotating clockwise around the bottom fist. Imagine a hand held grinding mechanism where you manually had to rotate the shaft to grind coffee beans. For those who do not know the sign for coffee, we added the image of a coffee cup.

The text “Deaf Can” is at our core. Deaf people CAN DO anything that hearing people can do. The exclamation mark (!) is a critical component of our logo as it captures the emphasis of facial expression and body language expressed in JSL that cannot be shown by text. The colour and free flowing design of the ! is the trademark artistic touch put into every caffe latte we serve.

We got started in January with a trip to see a deaf coffee farmer, Everlin Clarke, from Top Hill, St. Elizabeth. Clarke showed us his coffee trees and explained how it grows and when a cherry is red and ripe to harvest. Then he lit a fire and roasted a batch of coffee for us, demonstrating how the colour becomes golden brown and how the smell and smoke indicates when it’s ready; and he ground some for us so that we could see and smell what it’s like when fresh-roasted.

We had started bagging his coffee a couple years ago, just to share the story of Clarke, but had never considered roasting in Kingston. But after that trip in January the teen students were really interested in it, so we began roasting in Kingston at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD) campus. After brewing some of our coffee for friends, the idea came up in February to start a small coffee shop. Continue reading