In 2015 we sent a major congratulations to Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell of Equator Coffees And Teas. They were selected as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Persons of the Year for California. That was the first time in the SBA’s 63-year history that they selected lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) business owners. A major milestone!
Here at PCV, we couldn’t be happier for them. Helen and Brooke began working with us in 2007, where we provided them with pro bono business advising from a variety of experts. When we first started working together, they were trying to figure out how to both grow and get ready for equity investments without losing their social mission, commitment to sustainability and living wages, and their brand identity. And boy did they figure it out. In 2011, Equator was the first coffee roaster in the U.S. to become a certified B corporation, or fair-trade company, meeting high standards of societal and environmental responsibility.
From the beginning, Equator set itself apart by focusing on a triple bottom line that weaves social responsibility and sustainability into its metrics of success. Along the way, Helen and Brooke sought advice and mentoring. They have been working with Pacific Community Ventures (PCV) for over a decade.
Equator Coffees was at the forefront of the “third wave” coffee movement. They work directly with its farmers, and was one of the first roasters in America to support the Fair Trade Certified label to gain better wages for growers. It also co-owns a sustainably planned farm, Finca Sophia, in Panama. That operation won the 2016 Good Food Awards.
In addition to its commitment to great customer service and fair trade for its suppliers, Equator is also committed to providing high-quality jobs for employees. And as part of its social mission, they also provide 100 percent health insurance coverage to all of their employees. That’s no small commitment: Equator now has 90 employees, more than 350 wholesale customers—including Chef Thomas Keller’s Michelin Guide three-star French Laundry—and three retail stores in Northern California with two more on the way.
Helen and Brooke were nominated for this award by Capital Access Group, which provided financing in 2003 for Equator to purchase its own roasting plant which Helen calls “one of the best decisions that we’ve ever made.”
“We were especially proud to nominate Helen and Brooke for this prestigious award,” said Jacklyn Jordan, President and CEO, Capital Access Group. “These amazing women have not only created a successful, socially responsible business, they have also helped to influence the overall trajectory of the coffee industry through their early support of the Fair Trade movement. They are imminently deserving of this award, and we are honored to have played a role in the success of their business.”