Caffeine fix

There’s no need to feel guilty about your caffeine habit.

That’s thanks to Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co., a Chicago-based company dedicated to the idea that “great coffee can fuel a greater purpose.”

To that end, 20 percent of the profits of its fair trade and organic specialty coffees and related products — think mugs and themed apparel — are used to fund animal
rescue initiatives.

WAG recently chatted with Jordan Karcher, CEO and founder of Grounds & Hounds, about the company and its commitment to supporting no-kill rescue organizations across the country.

Karcher’s story is front and center on the Grounds & Hounds site:

“In the spring of 2012, I unexpectedly stumbled upon a dog adoption operating on the side of Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, CA. I was in no way planning, or prepared to adopt a rescue animal when I left the house that morning, but when a malnourished, brown and white, Dalmatian crawled into my lap, it was clear that I would be welcoming a new member to my family. She immediately became the center of my life and I cannot imagine a day without her.”

Karcher, who grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, told us that his love of dogs goes way back.

“I’ve had a dog in my house as far back as I can remember. We had a Dalmatian in our house when I was 2.”

That love stayed with Karcher, continuing when he was playing baseball in college. He studied international business at Florida International University in Miami.

After graduating, he moved to California and joined the wine industry, starting out in analytics.

“It was an amazing experience — 22 years old and living by wineries,” he says with a laugh.

His father was in the wine industry, so “I read Wine Spectator when I was 14,” Karcher says.

In time, it was his “strong interest in beverages that kind of parlayed into coffee.”

Karcher began “traveling around California exploring the coffee space,” and trying to find a way to bring his interests in rescue organizations and quality coffee together.

“Grounds & Hounds was the byproduct of that query.”

But it was far from a smooth start.

“Oh, yeah, I was in graduate school so I had no income, so I used craigslist and ebay for early funding,” he says of selling off some of his possessions. “It was very much a bootstrap operation.”

Those early days more than five years ago were also spent brewing coffee and sharing samples at weekend animal-rescue events, steps that in retrospect helped build a strong foundation for Grounds & Hounds.

“It was very important for me to have a very close pulse on my customer.”

Since then, he’s noted an evolution in customer demographics, though the thread of someone “who was really engaged with animal rescues” continues.

Today, he notes a large female customer base featuring many women who volunteer at animal-rescue organizations but customers do range from 25-year-old guys who love the accessories to “65- to 70-year-old women who love our pods.”

Karcher says coffee culture as a whole has “evolved,” with more consumers today wanting to support brands they believe in.

“We’re a socially conscious company, and people love that — and that’s why we exist.”

But, he says, the coffee — Grounds & Hounds blends are “all Fair Trade and organic” — has to be good to sustain it all.

“Our coffee, we’ll put up (against) any other coffee, quality-wise.”

Karcher says Grounds & Hounds works most often with rescue organizations on the local and state level, mentioning regional affiliations with Best Friends New York and Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue.

Indeed, any organization, big or small, is encouraged to get involved.

“We actually just launched a brand new project this year,” he says of the Grounds Crew.

This initiative allows work at the grassroots level “in a turnkey way,” as local organizations can team up with Grounds & Hounds so that a portion of sales from their volunteers and supporters comes back to it.

That direct, tangible impact, Karcher says, is “our goal.”

As the company marks its fifth anniversary, Karcher says the focus will always remain on quality. But the related products are not afterthoughts.

“You’re not just getting some cheap T-shirt,” he says. “It’s always about making a difference and enjoying the product along the way.”

And that product is also expanding, as Karcher notes.

“If you don’t drink coffee, we now have a premium hot chocolate.”

For more, visit groundsandhoundscoffee.com.

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