Actor Hugh Jackman is particular about his coffee. He takes it strong, smooth, always in the morning, and it has to be fair trade. He and his business partner, David Steingard, live by their company’s motto: Make Every Cup Count.
Jackman and Steingard’s company, Laughing Man Coffee and Tea, is based in New York City. They found it together and through it, they aim to tie together community health, sustainability, and good coffee. Laughing Man Foundation, a charity attached to the company, donates much of the profit to Fair Trade USA projects. It began as a simple idea but is growing explosively, with two Manhattan cafes, a product line available across the country through Keurig, and a measurable impact in the coffee-growing communities Laughing Man works with.
In 2009, Jackman traveled to Ethiopia with WorldVision Australia. There, he met a smallholder coffee farmer named Dukale, who worked twelve-hour days, 7 days per week, to provide for his family. Jackman returned to the United States as an ardent advocate for ethically sourced, fair trade coffee. He thought about starting a company. Steingard, a longtime friend, was looking for a new career challenge and was drawn to the “creative entrepreneurial spirit and sustainability” of the idea. He agreed quickly to sign on. In 2011, Laughing Man Coffee and Tea was born.
Jackman believes it was important to start a business, rather than a charity. “I needed to start a business that could partner with farmers like Dukale in order to gain access to markets. Where no infrastructure existed, I had to find a way to create it through distribution and cafes in New York that would introduce Fair Trade coffee by Dukale and others directly to consumers. So, in a way it’s advocacy, and it’s also entrepreneurism, and that’s something we would like to foster more of.”
Both the company and the foundation are based on the ethos of spreading happiness. According to Steingard, this has guided the high quality of café and coffee experiences they aim for, as well as the projects they support. One of the main challenges was “finding staff and building a culture that demonstrated that on a day to day basis,” he says. “This should be a bright point in somebody’s day.”
Steingard does his best to spread happiness through farming families and communities as well through Laughing Man Foundation. Environmental sustainability and supporting farmers is important, but “coffee is a family business, and by family I also mean a community business, it relies on everybody.” Steingard explains, “Let’s affect not just the farmer and him or herself but also the family and the community.”
The foundation directs profits from Laughing Man Coffee’s cafes and nation-wide coffee sales into projects for the communities where the coffee comes from. This year, the company is partnering with Fair Trade USA to invest in improvements to 100 homes and 40 college scholarships for the COOCENTRAL Co-op in Huila, Colombia.
Moving forward, Steingard is focused on expanding Laughing Man’s reach and impact. “We’re at a critical juncture where we’re trying to get real national growth,” he says. He and Jackman are looking for ways to earn more revenue for the foundation, to be able to do more work, and are looking for the next platforms for the business that can still align with its mission.
Steingard emphasizes the role that consumers play in making an impact. “Consumers are the ones with power. They are the ones who have made this shift toward responsible companies. They also demand a good product. You can vote with their dollars on the issues you care about by buying those products. Sometimes it’s a little bit of extra work, or there’s a premium, but consumers have the power.”
This is why Steingard and Jackman believe that every cup counts. Steingard sums it up: “All be happy, that’s the big conversation we’re all involved in.”