The story of how Joey Stazzone came to be a licensed coffee grader (roughly 3,000 worldwide), and owner of Cafe Kreyol, which he founded, is an unlikely one. By age 12, Joey was using marijuana, painkillers and developed an addiction to opiates. By the time he graduated High School, he was using heroin, selling drugs, and began apprenticing at a marijuana farm in Northern California.
It was due to the work on that farm however that Joey began to form an interest in crops, particularly crossbreeding and flavor profiles. Reflecting on that now, he is amazed at how God took those past sins of farming and trafficking drugs, allowing them to be converted into goodness.
The knowledge he took from that farm would certainly help him and many others across the world. Yet, his heart was not yet filled with charity and the desire to spread the Gospel. That came on a merciful night, when Joey prayed for the first time, as a prelude to taking his own life. He apologized to God for how he had turned out and asked for forgiveness. The next thing he knew, police barged in and raided his house, arresting him on 24 felonies.
One day, as the library cart came past his jail cell, Joey pulled a bible from it, believing that God had divinely prevented him from taking his life. A deputy who saw him floundering with it suggested he start with the gospels. Doing this, he found it was “breathing life” into him. As he prayed to Christ, he had a “burning bush experience,” in which “my life changed at once, my heart changed, my desires changed.” Joey’s desire was to follow God.
Through Romans and the Apostle Paul he was converted; attracted by Paul’s mission of starting small churches, which positively served their community. As he watched the catastrophic devastation left by the earthquakes in Haiti splashed across the jail television, he was filled with a Pauline desire to provide hope for those in need, particularly in Haiti. He had been a vacuum for far too long. Joey knew that because he was forgiven much, he must love much!
His radical transformation continued after prison, as he focussed on mentoring others in prison. He also joined a church and went on a mission trip to Haiti, which shared the gospel and painted a wall. However, witnessing the extreme depravity there (65% unemployment), he wanted to do more for the people than painting a wall.
Discovering that the aid being provided to Haitians was not sustainable, and even doing harm by causing unemployment, his motivation in wanting personal freedom for these people grew. Joey realized that charity certainly was not heaping things upon these people and then abandoning them. Stazzone’s goal became to find a way to create employment for the Haitian people; employment that was lasting and fair.
Joey, who prefers his title of “Chief coffee hunter” to CEO, raised funds and founded Cafe Kreyol. Starting with 200 small farmers in Haiti, he brought them together to reawaken their oldest existing co/op, which had since lost direction and mobilization. Joey and his director of operations Eric Girard, who operate Cafe Kreyol out of a 2K square foot roastery in Manassas, VA, have employed close to 2,000 Haitians to grow nursing trees and work as coffee farmers.
The duo now train farmers from Haiti, Burundi, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia in agronomy – teaching them to train one another. They operate on a direct trade system, which is based on the quality of the product. Through this system, farmers create their own profitable business and are paid more for better quality beans.
Joey’s former drug use has certainly come full circle, as his “Cocain 4 Coffee” Microlot roast is produced by former Cocain farmers, who Joey has helped to leave the dangerous drug trade for coffee farming.
I personally tried a sample of Cafe Kreyol’s Haitian Hound a few years back and was stopped in my tracks by the quality and taste of the coffee. I went right over to the shelf a bought a bag – a habit that has continued. Never would I have guessed that its origins were right in my own Northern VA backyard, and that they were born out of a Christian witness to do good. It was only through a chance encounter at a farmer’s market and the urging of the Lord that I was led to the roastery itself.
There I sat down with Joey, amidst bags of sweet smelling coffee beans, and let the Holy Spirit inspire the story he had led me there to uncover. I left with a bag of Cafe Kreyol’s newest blend; Defense Against the Dark Arts, and the confirmation that through Stazzone’s story, one can truly see how God chooses the foolish to shame the wise!