BY VALENTINE J. BRKICH
I thought I'd be driving up to a storefront, but instead my phone's GPS leads me to the end of a cul-de-sac. I'm on my way to a place called Beecher's Coffee & Premium Tea, and as I pull into the driveway, I spy several large sacks of coffee beans in the garage. Smoke wafts up from the chimney, and the air is thick with the aroma of roasting coffee. Hundreds of snowflake-like things float down from the sky.
"Those are the coffee husks," says Dave Beecher Brauer M'09, who comes out of the garage to greet me. "Welcome to Beecher's!"
Founded in 2003 and named for Brauer's grandfather, Beecher Linwood Scott, Beecher's Coffee & Premium Tea roasts and sells more than 65,000 pounds of premium coffee each year. And it's all done right here in the Pine Township garage of Brauer's father and business partner, David F. Brauer, who once taught risk management as an adjunct professor at RMU.
Each Tuesday they spend the entire day roasting 300-400 pounds of coffee. On Wednesday Brauer packs the coffee into his Toyota Prius and makes all the deliveries personally. Most of their clients are local nonprofits — LaRoche College, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, churches — and the Brauers donate 51 percent of their earnings to faithbased charities such as the Glade Run Foundation and Light of Life Rescue Mission. They also participate in One Percent for the Planet, an international organization whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual sales revenue to environmental causes. "Beecher's is a values-led business," says Brauer. "We're more like a philanthropic organization that makes coffee."
Beecher's roasts what Brauer refers to as "relationship coffees." "It's smaller than fair trade," he says. "Many poor families can't afford to be registered as fair trade. We actually know our growers, and we work hard to build personal relationships with them."
Coincidentally, it was a personal relationship that Brauer developed while at RMU that set the company on its current path.
After earning his bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Pittsburgh, Brauer worked as a financial adviser for a few years and spent a little over a year at law school. Then, in 2007, he enrolled in RMU's human resources management graduate program and met the program's director, Darlene Motley, Ph.D., who took Brauer on as a graduate assistant and guided his research into organizational sustainability. "The friendship and mentorship we've developed really set the track of where I am going in life," he says. It was Motley who motivated him to pursue his Ph.D. in economics at the prestigious University of Durham in Great Britain. The program requires an enormous amount of travel; not only does Brauer meet with his advisor in England four or more times a year, but his small group of 13 doctoral candidates meets for classes every eight weeks not in England, but at Fudan University in Shanghai. Brauer plans to become a professor.
Today sustainability plays a big part in the Beecher's Coffee mission. The company buys directly from regional farmers who harvest shade-grown and organic coffee beans, and then ships the coffee in compostable packaging. Induction lighting illuminates their garage-based operation, and natural gas powers the roaster. And as for those snowflake-like coffee husks, Brauer and his dad reuse them as mulch.
Now he's embarked on a new initiative to support the poor people of Haiti and, at the same time, revitalize the country's once-thriving coffee industry. Back in the 1970s, Haiti was the world's third largest coffee exporter, producing some 7 million pounds annually. Last year, however, the country exported 60,000 pounds, which is less than Beecher's annual output. Now Brauer hopes to help the poor of Haiti by restoring the country as a leading coffee producer. "Our goal is to get 1,000 Haitian families involved in the coffee industry again," he says.
Recently he was asked to join the board of directors of the Friends of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, which supports projects in collaboration with the hospital's mission to improve the health and well-being of the people in Haiti's Artibonite Valley. Now he's working with the hospital to launch an exclusive, $100-per-pound Haitian coffee known as the "Pearl of the Antillies," the sales of which will help support the Haiti Timber Reintroduction Project.
For Brauer, the work he's doing at Beecher's and in Haiti isn't about financial success, but rather about the legacy he wants to leave to his two sons, Grant, 5, and Christian, 2. "What do I want them to know about me?" he says. "What's really important in life? Business, to me, is no longer just the means to an end. I found a path for my life that’s more interesting. Money is a tool, not a goal. You can do good, change lives, and still make money to support your family."
WEB VIDEO EXCLUSIVE - One Cup at a Time
RMU alum Dave Brauer talks about how his company, Beecher's Coffee, is changing lives by helping people in Haiti rebuild their coffee growing industry.