Refuge Coffee opens new location in The Woodruff Arts Center

The newest Refuge Coffee Company location is in Midtown at the Woodruff Arts Center. This photo is at the Clarkston location. (Courtesy of Refuge Coffee Co.)

Clarkston, Georgia, is known as the most diverse square mile in the United States. Its population adds about 2,500 refugees from more than 45 countries each year. In 2015, Kitti Murray established Refuge Coffee Company in Clarkston, a nonprofit that employs refugees and offers job training and mentorship. Now, a new location for Refuge welcomes visitors in Midtown Atlanta at the Woodruff Arts Center. Murray joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk more about this expansion and the mission of Refuge Coffee.

Murray and her husband moved to Clarkston nine years ago, at a time when her work focused on writing. She confessed that her first inspiration for creating Refuge wasn’t especially high-minded. “I love coffee shops, and at that time, there wasn’t one near where we lived,” said Murray. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a coffee shop in Clarkston?’”

But as a self-identified natural networker and a people person, Murray’s idea soon grew in scope. “We immediately started to get to know all our neighbors, and you’ve already mentioned how many countries our neighbors are from,” Murray said. “What that translates into is just this beautiful mashup of cultures and languages, and also, most of the people who come from those countries are survivors. And they’re heroic and resilient people.”

Murray continued, “I immediately wanted everybody in my old world to meet all my new friends in my new world, and so the thought of a coffee shop that could bring those worlds together – I just felt like it needed to happen.”

Murray recognized the need for employment that challenged many of her neighbors, and she wanted her coffee shop to mean more than just a business opportunity for her own family. The idea of connecting her community expanded into a broader vision of opportunity for everyone involved. But first things first – she had to start the business. “Honestly, if you added my business acumen and my husband’s together, you would come up with a negative number,” joked Murray. 

Refuge Coffee began as a coffee truck, low-risk, low-rent and flexible. Eventually, the Murrays moved their business into an old gas station near the parking lot where their truck usually set up and soon officially bought the space. At that point, Refuge moved decisively into community organizing, fundraising, and setting up job training for neighborhood residents. “I felt like I was jumping off a cliff every day for the first two years,” said Murray. “But it was that ‘good scary,’ you know, it’s like I’m jumping off a cliff into a lagoon with a lot of friends who are swimming.”

While Refuge continues to develop its job training and mentorship opportunities through the challenge of the pandemic, the Woodruff Arts Center location invites a new neighborhood into Murray’s culture of welcoming. Though multicultural events like Refuge’s popular annual Iftar dinners (the fast-breaking meal ending each day of Ramadan in Islamic tradition) are on hold for now, Murray expressed her hope that chances to gather will soon return and keep immigrant community members feeling connected and celebrated. 

“I do love that Clarkston is a good reminder that this is a human crisis,” Murray said. “The people that live in Clarkston are hopeful and want to have a future, and want to work hard, and don’t want to take anything from anybody. They just want to be able to live freely and as contributors.”

More about the opportunities and projects at Refuge Coffee Co. is available at

**Join us for Swag Search, a scavenger hunt for new WABE swag at 8 locations across the city on January 26 from 12-2 p.m. This segment already had a location clue, but follow us on social @WABEATL to discover more!