By Mark H. Stowers • Photography by Staci Lewis
Growing up in Washington state, Ben Lewis didn’t know anything about the Mississippi Delta. But, when the Wentworth University alumnus was offered a one-year contract for an IT job, he did a little research. What he found out initially wasn’t pretty but he decided to look deeper. Accepting the job and moving his family to Clarksdale, Lewis was quickly rooted and seven years later has no thoughts of moving. Now, as the Workforce Development Officer at Griot Arts, Lewis directs the Merkari Roasting Company.
“I tell people I accidentally moved to the Delta,” he says. “I had a one-year contract with the state to provide IT infrastructure and teach teachers how to use technology.”
The one-year contract was just a teaser for Lewis. He found more opportunity and dug in.
“The year was up and we looked at each other and says this is a very interesting place. Let’s stay another year,” he says.
After working for another company and rooting himself and his family deeper in the Delta, he found his way to Griot Arts where Director Founder Cali Noland needed help with workforce development. The duo came up with the Meraki Roasting company as a subsidiary of Griot Arts.
Meraki’s focus is workforce development for young adults. Through this program young adults in our community are empowered and then enter the workforce equipped with the professional skills and experience needed to be successful.
“We provide those opportunities to figure out your passion and purpose in life,” says Lewis. “This happened to bridge the two.”
The job position just so happens to combine Lewis’ two favorite things—coffee and helping educate folks. He admits that having a pastor for a father growing up, he spent a lot of time hanging out at church and drinking coffee.
“I’ve definitely had a passion for coffee all of my life. This is my first venture into commercial roasting. I didn’t choose coffee as the platform because I loved it but we settled on it for two reasons. When we use Meraki as a practical working environment, coffee makes a wonderful platform for soft skill development.”
He noted that it’s not just following directions but understanding the why and using critical thinking. Coffee also gave them a larger area to sell their product. With coffee names such as Muddy Waters, Mighty Mississippi, Sunflower Soul, Meraki Signature and more. There’s even a rich flavored decaf, Streetcar.
With his wife, Staci, and their three boys—Josiah, Nolan and Micah, enjoy exploring the Delta when he’s not roasting coffee. Staci has her own Documentary Family style photography business as well.
“We love camping, going to the river, picnics—just a lot of time being spent outside,” says Lewis.
Lewis has found plenty of great places to eat and enjoys exploring the palate of flavors across the Delta.
“My favorite that I crave is ribs but my problem is they are by a local gentleman who doesn’t have a restaurant. It’s only when I can convince him to grill me ribs,” he says. “In general, I love the restaurants in Clarksdale and I rotate between them all. I love food and the Delta has no short supply of good food.”
A transplanted Delta resident, coffee lover and more, Ben Lewis has made the Delta his family’s home with no plans to uproot anytime soon.