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September 28, 2023

At Refuge Coffee Co. in Clarkston, Georgia, the mission is much bigger than a good cup of coffee

“Clarkston is like a village,” says Darara Gubo, former asylum-seeker, now an attorney in Clarkston, Georgia. 

“When I first arrived in Clarkston I was living inside my car,” recalls Darara. “I was in a situation where I needed to find a community who could help me.”

The Clarkston community embraced him and gave him a chance to restart.

Originally from Ethiopia, Darara came to the U.S. in 2006 to pursue graduate studies after earning a law degree in Ethiopia but soon found himself applying for asylum due to his work on human rights issues for religiously persecuted individuals. 

Darara was granted political asylum and with help from his newfound village, he found stability and decided that he wanted to go to law school in the U.S. 

He also discovered another part of the Clarkston village — Refuge Coffee Co. 

Like Darara, Kitti Murray, founder of Refuge Coffee Co., arrived in Clarkston as an outsider but immediately felt the warmth and embrace of the local community.

“My husband and I moved to Clarkston 11 years ago,” shares Kitti. “My first impression was just the beauty of all the people we got to know,” she continues. “Everyone had their own story but there were core values of resilience and of caring for one another. I fell in love with all the cultures in Clarkston and all the stories people brought with them.”

When Kitti arrived in Clarkston, she had never considered the idea of opening a coffee shop or starting a non-profit. She had no experience as an entrepreneur and according to her, the idea was initially frightening. She leaned into other skills she has that would prove vital for success.

“I love to gather people and that’s the one gift I could bring,” says Kitti. “The idea of creating a safe, inviting welcoming space for the community seemed like a good idea.”

Kitti also saw there was an opportunity in Clarkston to help resettled refugees find meaningful employment at a competitive wage.

“The idea that we could help create jobs and training so people could get better jobs was part of the inspiration for opening Refuge Coffee Co.,” shares Kitti. “But we’ve always been clear, the work we do here at Refuge Coffee Co. is with the refugee community, not for them.”

Since opening its doors, Refuge Coffee Co. has employed 55 people from 17 different countries — all with competitive wages and training.

When Refuge Coffee opened its Clarkston location in 2014, Darara quickly became a familiar face.

“I would come to study here a lot when I was in law school and I attribute passing the bar to Refuge Coffee,” Darara says with a smile. “I studied here a lot!”

“I met Darara when he was a law student at Emory and he would ask us to pray for him when he had big exams,” shares Kitti, “and I would always enthusiastically say, ‘Yes!’”

After passing the bar, Darara continued to be a regular at Refuge Coffee Co.

“He’s a very caring practitioner of the law and has advocated so well for our employees who have needed help,” says Kitti.

As an attorney, Darara believes his personal journey is helpful to his clients.

“I’m often a bridge between the community and the legal system here in the U.S. because most of my clients don’t speak English and usually do not understand the U.S. legal system,” shares Darara. “I can help them navigate this system.”

For Kitti, Darara's personal journey and profession are essential to the long-term success of Refuge Coffee Co. In 2023, Darara joined the board of Refuge Coffee.

“Board members bring wisdom, and Darara is a very wise man,” shares Kitti. “He brings an understanding of the refugee journey and of the Clarkston community.”

Learn more about how the Atlanta region welcomes refugees

For decades, refugees have moved to metro Atlanta, settling in suburbs outside of the city and enriching their communities with cultural diversity and economic prosperity. Learn more about the welcoming history of Atlanta and the amazing contributions refugees are making in the community.