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CASEY WOJTALEWICZ

“Witnessing alternate perspectives and ways of life is bound to spark
new ideas and inspiration, and a reflection on our own existence.”

WITH ALLY AND CASEY
FROM CANYON COFFEE

BEAR
INTERVIEW

Words

Zoe Cuthbertson

Photography

@canyoncoffee

‘The morning is the best time’ said Georgia O’Keeffe, modernist painter and the inspiration behind Canyon, the speciality coffee company Ally Walsh and Casey Wojtalewicz started from their Los Angeles apartment in 2016. Having met just three years earlier, Canyon allowed the creative couple to combine their great loves; art, travel, nature, and of course, their treasured morning ritual. At their home in Echo Park, Ally and Casey begin their day with pour over coffee; the whistle of a stove-top kettle and the aroma of fresh, hand-ground beans marking a return to the slow living practices O’Keeffe was known for. We caught up with Ally and Casey to discuss the importance of balance, and why mindfulness is at the heart of all they do.

Hometown
West Islip, Long Island, New York / Appleton, Minnesota

Residence
Echo Park, Los Angeles

Making coffee for each other is the kind of thing we get excited about the night before. Whoever is up first treats the other to coffee in bed. We light the kettle on the stove, grind our beans fresh, and get a little mindfulness practice in the act of making the pour over. Aside from that, we both strive to meditate twice- a-day — 20 minutes in the morning, 20 in the afternoon. We light candles and our Bodha incense and give ourselves at least an hour to journal, read or take a walk before getting into any work or opening our computers. Giving ourselves that time, especially as our own bosses, enables us to be in a calm and focused state of mind and makes for a better day overall.

We met in Los Angeles in 2013, and hit it off right away. A model and musician, we were both travelling a lot for work and spent the early days of our relationship apart. During this time, coffee was a way we bonded; we would seek out local roasters on our travels and send bags of beans home to each other to enjoy. Being able to make a pour over for each other, to wake up and enjoy coffee together, became a cherished ritual we looked forward to while apart. Canyon Coffee was years in the making, though we didn’t realise it at the time. It grew out of a culmination of years of travel, exploration, learning, working, and relationships. Casey started working as a barista in the coffee industry in LA, and became friends with James Klapp, a talented roaster. In early 2016, the vision became clear. We wanted to take all the things we loved about coffee and the coffee world, and encapsulate it into our own brand; exuding the warmth, quality and special feeling coffee brings to us. We asked James to team up with us, designed the package (thanks largely to a coincidental friendship with designer Fredericus L’Ami) and together we started Canyon Coffee in October 2016. As for the name, it’s not tied to any one thing in particular, but rather represents a general ethos and some loose threads that tie the feeling of the brand together. Casey lived in Beachwood Canyon when we met, we hatched the idea for the company on a hike in Temescal Canyon, we were inspired by the beauty of the canyons of LA and northern New Mexico, and we felt the way canyons concentrate energy in their centres was an apt metaphor for how coffee brings people together.

Ethical partnerships are everything. If we weren’t clear that our business and our supply chain are providing benefit to the people involved, we couldn’t see the purpose of having the business. One thing we like to shed transparency on is the notion of the roaster “finding” a farm, setting up their own “exchange,” and single-handedly changing the lives of farmers. This narrative cuts many people out of the story who are essential in ensuring fairness and quality. A roasting company and an international logistics operation are two different businesses, but they work hand-in-hand. It’s really not until a company scales to a large enough size that taking on their own logistics becomes sensible, from a business stand point. We are proud to work with import partners like Sustainable Harvest, a Certified B Corporation, who have spent decades building relationships with farmers across the world. The legwork they have put in on the ground in coffee- producing regions, and the transparency with which they do it, ensures us that the farmers we work with are receiving fair and sustainable prices for their yields. Finally, another joy of working with import partners and establishing relationships with farmers is that when we do visit origin countries, we’re able to meet farmers and put faces to names we’ve already been working with. It’s fun getting to taste coffees and visit farms to begin with, but even better when there’s already a history in the making.

In any relationship, it’s important that each person does what’s required for them to feel great and show up as their best self. For both of us, we view taking the time for self-care — be it a yoga class, a hike, taking an afternoon to catch up with a friend, or even taking a solo trip — as critical, and non-negotiable. We encourage each other to take that time. Then, there are the somewhat basic ground rules, such as not talking about business after working hours. Either of us can request to shelve work talk for later. We have regular date nights, and also take a lot of joy in just making food together at home. We’d be lying if we said it’s been a breeze, especially with a fast-growing company. The demands and work put in front of you can quickly become more than what’s possible to accomplish on a regular work day. But this, again, just reinforces the fact that self-balance is critical to ensuring longevity in the long haul, as well as being a good partner on the daily.

We recently spent a week with some friends at a villa in the countryside of northern Sicily, not far from Cefalu. Being with friends, enjoying each other’s company, making food (and coffee) together, swimming, exploring the Sicilian coast, was unforgettable, and the time passed so quick. Our first trip to Portugal was also special. It was the first time we travelled together to a place neither of us had been before. We went on a road trip around the country, from Lisbon out through Alentejo down to the Algarve, back up the west coast and on to Porto. The newness of it all, combined with the hospitality, food, wine, architecture, and scenery still mark it as one of our favourite trips. Finally, we love Paris. It’s brought us so much inspiration and we’re always excited to go back. I could really say the same about all the places we’ve made our Canyon Travel Guides for. Just getting out of our locale and experiencing different cultures, languages, streets, buildings, food... witnessing alternate perspectives and ways of life is bound to spark new ideas and inspiration, and a reflection on our own existence.

Original implies something is coming from a person or group of people that could not possibly come from someone else. All creators inevitably pull from the world around them — different inspirations, influences — but it’s the way in which they internalise and produce something new that is original. To follow another person or group’s path as a blueprint, or to imitate something “with a spin” on it, is not original to me. Being original requires going completely off what feels right, in the moment.

We’ve been busy helping people open their own coffee programs and coffee shops, so we will be seeing more great projects coming to life. Most recently we’ve helped open projects in Big Sur, Salt Lake City, and Nashville. We’re excited to continue collaborating with more artists and friend’s companies as we expand the offerings of our online shop. We’re excited to continue developing Neighbourhood, the coffee shop we are partners in, and we’re excited as we move closer to building a Canyon roastery and flagship location here in Los Angeles.

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