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Liberal Causes Suit Start-Up Coffee Company's Tastes

April 4, 2007
By JANICE PODSADA, Courant Staff Writer

The average American drinks an estimated 23 gallons of coffee a year - about 400 cups, according to a recent study.

Add a dollop of foam or flavor, and a cup of designer joe at a coffee shop can cost more than $4.

Those high prices didn't escape 16-year-old Andrew Ruben's notice as he and his father stood in line at a Wallingford coffee shop two years ago.

"It made me wonder, where is the money going?" said Ruben, who is now 18 and one of the founders of Blue State Coffee LLC, a Hartford-based coffee company.

Andrew's question reverberated with his father, Marshall Ruben, 46, his mother, Carolyn Greenspan, 47, and their longtime friends, Tom Clark, 56, his wife, Margy Clark, 53, and their daughter, Bridie Clark, 29.

With everyone downing so much java, they reasoned, why not start a coffee company that donates a portion of its profits to worthwhile causes and organizations?

In September 2006, they launched Blue State Coffee, a for-profit company. Right now, the company has only a website, but this June it's planning to open its first coffee shop in Providence.

If that location proves successful, they hope to open cafes in Connecticut.

The company's name reflects the founders' political bent. "Red states" in political parlance are predominately Republican, and "blue states" are predominantly Democratic. Blue State Coffee's slogan? "Drink Liberally."

It has pledged to donate half of the company's after-tax profits to causes its founders consider socially progressive.

The company sells its line of coffee blends and products online at www.bluestatecoffee.com.

The company made its first charitable donation this week to three organizations: the National Even Start Association, which promotes family literacy programs; Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit organization; and the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington, D.C. Ruben would not reveal how much the company donated.

"We had no profits as an accounting matter, but we made a contribution to these charities, anyway," Marshall Ruben said. "It was a real amount of money, made on the basis of how our customers voted."

Each quarter, the company posts a list of organizations or causes it deems worthwhile on its website. Customers are then asked to vote as to how the profits should be allocated, Ruben said.

"We donate a percentage of each quarter's funds according to the results of this vote," he said.

Although the founders would not reveal their start-up costs or revenue, they said they are ahead of projections.

Twelve-ounce and five-pound bags of whole bean or ground Blue State coffee blends, including True Blue Blend, Patriot Blend and Liberty Blend and Blue State Decaf, can be purchased on its website or through a toll-free number, 877-626-BLUE.

Blue State coffee is roasted and prepared to order by New Harvest Coffee Roasters in Pawtucket, R.I. It is certified organic by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management; certified fair trade by TransFair USA, a nonprofit organization; and certified kosher under the supervision of Vaad HaKashruth of Rhode Island.

This summer, Blue State plans to open its first coffee shop at Brown University in Providence, said Tom Clark, who works as director of finance at the Watkinson School in Hartford. The company chose the location because of its proximity to New Harvest Coffee Roasters.

"The space is under construction. Our target date to open is June," said Bridie Clark, author of a recently published novel, "Because She Can."

If the cafe proves successful, the company's founders hope to open other locations.

"We're looking at sites in Hartford, New Haven, Middletown, and in Northampton and Cambridge, Massachusetts," said Tom Clark - "and of course all the other blue states."

For the founders, selling coffee is only a sideline.

"None of us have quit our jobs," said Marshall Ruben, a Hartford commercial real estate lawyer.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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