Birch Bark Coffee: A Journey from Indigenous Roots to Costco Success

Birch Bark Coffee: A Journey from Indigenous Roots to Costco Success

Join Paul G with an interview with Mark Marsolais from Birch Bark Coffee! Mark is Ojibwe and a Band member of Whitefish River First Nation located on Birch Island, Ontario in the District of Manitoulin Island. As the proud founder of two First Nations-owned companies, IndiGenius and Associates Inc. and Birch Bark Coffee Company Inc., he is on a mission to make a difference in Indigenous people’s lives across Canada. He is a firm believer that with self-determination and perseverance, he can make a difference through education and awareness across our nation.

Mark Marsolais Background

Mark Marsolais, an Ojibwe citizen and member of Whitefish River First Nations, shares insights into his background and introduces Birch Bark Coffee, an indigenous-owned First Nations coffee company. With a few years in business, Mark reflects on his unexpected journey into the coffee industry.

Starting Birch Bark Coffee

Paul explores Mark's transition from a background in the justice field to becoming an entrepreneur in the coffee industry. Mark emphasizes his love for coffee and the desire to make a social impact in his communities. He discusses choosing a well-recognized commodity to draw attention to social impacts in First Nations communities across Canada.

Passion for Coffee and Roasting

Mark, an avid coffee drinker, talks about his passion for different coffee varieties worldwide. Facing financial constraints for a roasting company, he adopted a unique approach, collaborating with a roasting company and focusing on branding and distribution. The coffee, sourced from indigenous descendants in Latin America, highlights the global connection.

Mark shares his experiences with home roasting and the intricate process of cupping and tasting different flavors. He explains how the cooling process unveils the true taste of premium coffee and highlights the diverse origins that contribute to unique flavors, emphasizing handpicked beans from indigenous farmers.

Significance of the Name – Birch Coffee Company

The name “Birch Coffee Company” holds cultural significance, paying homage to Mark's communities and the historical importance of birch trees in First Nations. The legacy behind the name is rooted in the use of birch bark for various purposes within indigenous communities.

Growth of Birch Bark Coffee

Discussing recent achievements, Mark shares the exciting news of Birch Bark Coffee entering Costco stores, marking a milestone as the first First Nations coffee in Costco in Ontario. He also mentions a partnership with Chapman's Ice Cream for a cold brew ice cream flavor, with more exciting developments expected in the new year.

Future Plans

Mark outlines plans for expanding Birch Bark Coffee's distribution into the United States in 2024. He provides information on where listeners can find Birch Bark Coffee, including e-commerce platforms like Shopify and, with a store locator for Canadian locations.


Paul Gowder: While honoring his [00:01:00] traditions, um, and his people and, um, and now growing to where he's going to be in Costco. So I appreciate Mark taking a few minutes to spend time with me. And here's the interview with the founder of Birch Bark Coffee. Thanks so much for being here. Please tell everybody about yourself.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Yeah, I am. My name's Mark Marle Ngabo. I am Ojibwe. I'm a citizen band member of Whitefish River First Nations located in, in the district of Manitou Island. So Whitefish River, uh, Birch Island, Ontario, and I'm the founder of Birch Bark Coffee Company, an indigenous owned First Nations coffee company.

Paul Gowder: And you've been in business now just a few years.

Paul Gowder: Tell me, how did you land on starting a coffee business? Man,

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: it's, it's, uh, I mean, it's, it's outta the love of coffee, uh, first and foremost. And, uh, funny enough, my background is, uh, within the justice field, so I'm not even. I wasn't even in the food industry. Um, but being an [00:02:00] entrepreneur, uh, at heart, um, I created a business that looked at, uh, uh, focusing on social impacts to give back to my communities.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: And, uh, not only that, looking at a commodity that, you know, was well recognized by. On a national level and something that would draw in the attention, um, to consumers that would, um, really ultimately bring education and awareness to, uh, to, you know, social impacts and some of the issues that were happening in our First Nations communities across Canada.

Paul Gowder: Yeah, it's, it's coffee. I, I, I know people are really into the, the roasting process and all of that. Um, is, is that something you were just always interested in, in, in kind of, I. Turned, turned. Was this like a hobby or something you did before you, like how did it morph into this thriving business?

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Yeah, well, I'm an avid coffee drinker and I, I enjoy, uh, so many different coffees.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: As you know, there's a lot of coffees [00:03:00] from all over the world. And, um. I really, as a startup, I really didn't have the capital to be able to open up a roasting company, um, which cost quite a lot of money as you know. So I had to do the next best thing and, and really do what we call, um, kind of, it's kind of a funny word.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: It's the way labeling where you. Collaborate with, uh, a roasting company and they do all, um, while you do all your branding and, and, you know, and all your distribution that they, you know, over, you know, they basically roast your coffee for you. And one of the cool things about our coffee is it's from indigenous descendants.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: So from Latin America, Guatemala, Honduras, uh.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: I, I dabbled a little bit at home, uh, roasting on my stove to try it out. It's, uh, it's fun to do, but when you get [00:04:00] into the darker roasts, be prepared to, uh, turn on your fan due to the smoke. But, um, it, it's, it's something that I. That I've enjoyed. I, I think that I've had the opportunity to do cupping. I've had the opportunity to tour roasting companies, um, and it's, uh, quite extensive and you really have to spend many years to be, uh, to be good at roasting.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: And I, I'm not quite there yet, but as far as cupping and tasting different, uh, flavors, that's kind of.

Paul Gowder: You know, I, I, I enjoy a, a cup of coffee, but for me, I gotta have some stuff in it, right? I'm not just a, a, a straight coffee drinker. And so I've always been curious and to talk to an, an expert. Really.

Paul Gowder: Yeah. So if somebody's just starting out, like what are the different, or like where should somebody start with the different roast and kind of, what are you looking for? What's the flavor profile and you know, where do you go from

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: there? Yeah, I'll share my knowledge with it.[00:05:00]

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Separate, you know, some of the coffees we grew up with

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: start seeing really big differences in. You know, I, it's funny enough, I was just speaking to an expert just last week on coffee and you know, the first thing he said to me, uh, he said, you know, mark, he goes, you can drink all the coffees in the world, uh, right away and while they're very hot, you're never gonna get really the good taste of 'em.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: He goes, A true premium coffee will stand out. And cools down.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: It does ring true because when I was doing all my cupping for my coffee and I was going through all the different taste, [00:06:00] the hints, and of bringing out, you know, lemon tastes, uh, chocolate really started to highlight the palette. When it was warm and it was cooling down and it was, it was, it was a cool experience and I didn't realize that coffee had that much, um, uh, history to it.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: And, and people ask, you know, like even with me, you know, when I call my coffee company, Birch Coffee Company, think Birch in it, but it's.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: But the different origins where the coffee comes from also, um, allows for different tastes like the soils, uh, the, the, the elevations, uh, the, uh, the, the growing process, the handpick, all our coffees hand picked. There's no machines at all.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Particularly lava rock. [00:07:00] So Latin America is very famous for up in the mountains, um, of, of, of having lava rock. But they can't, the, the indigenous farmers can't get machinery up there, up there. So families have to handpick all the coffee beans. So every one of our coffee beans are handpick, um, which is pretty unique, but a.

Paul Gowder: That's really cool. Thank you. Uh, when I wanna know about the name too, and, and we, I wanna get to kind of the big announcement that you, that why I reached out to you. But yeah, tell me a little bit about the name first.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Yeah, so there's many layers as to why I created Birch Coffee Company, uh, this, um, social enterprise.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Um, part of the one with the name is really giving, um, respect to my communities, uh, my family. Um, so. Where I'm from are located in Ontario. It's called the District of Manitou Island. Uh, and within that it's Birch Island, Ontario, and then [00:08:00] within that is the Bay of Islands. And we're actually a community that's called Whitefish River First Nations.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: So when you look on a map, you'll see all kinds of bodies of water, but that particular area is very famous for having a lot of bir. Reason why.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Birch trees, which are famous in the First Nations communities of being, uh, medicinal, uh, have carried a, a legacy of, uh, historical pieces of really, uh, helping our communities out a long way with, uh, you know, using the birch tree, birch bark as, uh, as for baskets, uh, for.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: A means of drinking, uh, a product as well as, uh, medicinal, uh, purposes. [00:09:00] And, um, that piece alone is the reason, the reason why the name was created. Um, and, and, and then just leaving a legacy behind for our indigenous communities, our future entrepreneurs to.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Communities.

Paul Gowder: Yeah. I, I, I, I talk a lot about, on the show, whe whether we're talking to, you know, an actor or an author or whatever. I, I think it's really exciting to see, uh, indigenous. People, you know, our businesses going in different directions. Mm-Hmm. Because now our indigenous youth have different paths that they have seen and who knows what's gonna happen in the next generation and, and where they'll be able to take it.

Paul Gowder: Um mm-Hmm. And kind speaking of that, you know, you're taking this to new heights. Uh, tell us about the, the deal that just came through.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Yeah, we're a lot of exciting news. Um, I'm, uh, in [00:10:00] Costco now and I believe that I'm the first, from what I've been told, uh, the first, first Nations coffee, uh, to go into Costco, uh, in Ontario, uh, hopefully across Canada eventually.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Um, which is exciting. Uh, I have a really cool partnership with, uh, Chapman's Ice Cream. Um, I don't know if Chapman's Ice cream is just in Canada, or it's across North America, but, uh, the Chapman family have created a cold brew ice cream, uh, using my coffee. And that's, uh, in stores right across Canada. Um, and there's a lot more exciting things coming up in the new year, which I can't really release just yet, but it'll be on social media.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: But the Costco one was big. Um, and really it was about giving a message out to people that, you know, just. You know, they're a big company and, and you know, as a startup I was a lot of, uh, being humbled and, and a lot of gratitude that had the [00:11:00] opportunity to go in there. And I, you know, I, I thank Costco for giving me the opportunity, but it, but the message I'm trying to get across is that just believe in yourself as an entrepreneur.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Believe yourself as, you know, startup in that whatever mind.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Up playing with the big players in the coffee industry now.

Paul Gowder: Uh, and you didn't have to tell me that there was an ice cream flavor. My, my wife loves I coffee flavor ice cream. So now I'm gonna have to be searching for that one. Um, I don't know that we have Chapmans down here, but you know, next, uh, next time we're up that way, we're gonna have to search for it a little bit.

Paul Gowder: So that's really cool. For sure. Um, well, okay, so now if, if people are interested in their, it's not in their Costco, um, locally tell where can we find your coffee? Where's the best place to get it?

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Well, um, a couple of the platforms [00:12:00] on e-commerce, because that's where we started off with e-commerce. Um, so we're on Shopify.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: It's easy to find us on ww at www coffee company com. Uh, we are also on, well ca. If you go to website too, um, we have it set up where you can actually, it's a store locator so you can actually find in Canada where to locate the coffee. Um, we do ship a lot to the us. Uh, we have a lot of, a lot of followers from the us.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Uh, there.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: Distribution into United States. Um, but we're looking at looking at that in 24. Um, but you can always reach out to me, uh, on the website, um, at orders at coffee company com, and I can guide you through the process of, uh, whether you're a.[00:13:00]

Paul Gowder: There you go, folks. Make sure you, uh, check 'em out, get your, uh, hey, these big great, uh, holiday gift ideas too. Um, maybe not in time, maybe not, you might not be able to get it, uh, to the house in time, um, when before this interview goes out. But these are, this would make great gifts. Um, love that. Well, uh, appreciate you coming on and telling us a little bit about the story of your coffee.

Paul Gowder: Um, anything else you want to tell our readers before our, our listeners before we

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow: go? Well with, uh, the holidays coming up. I just wanna say, uh, thank you very much for having me. Um, and I wanna Happy Holidays, uh, and the best in the new for everybody, uh, in, uh, powwow Land. And, uh, we'll see you, uh. We'll see you on the on the internet.

About Paul G

Paul G is the founder, who wears many hats as a business coach, photographer, and collector of quirky shirts. Paul started in 1996 while pursuing his graduate degree. With a passion for travel, he and his family hav  traveled the world, capturing unforgettable memories and photos. When he's not coaching or clicking, he's indulging in the magic of Disney.

One Comment “Birch Bark Coffee: A Journey from Indigenous Roots to Costco Success”

  • Avatar for Irene



    I live in a very rural area where i have to spend an hour or more to travel and i don’t even know if there is a Costco down there. Is there a way i can purchase coffee on line and have it mailed to me?

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