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Coffee with a Cause

By Christine Cox
Story originally published in 2014.

Jordan Karcher MBA ’15 still isn’t sure why he pulled over to a rescue dog adoption event in 2012. He had been on his way to grab breakfast before a weekend of moving into a new place.  

“I’ve always loved dogs, but the last thing I was thinking about that day was getting a dog,” he says. “I was working in a new position for spirits firm William Grant & Sons, and in the middle of moving from Los Angeles to Santa Monica. I was very, very busy. But I saw the adoption sign and stopped. And this one puppy, a brown-and-white Dalmatian, just crawled over to me. She was malnourished and super skinny. She crawled onto my lap and put her nose in my jacket. I adopted her on the spot.”

He missed breakfast that day, but gained an inseparable companion. “I can’t imagine my life without Molly,” he says. “And adopting her really got me involved with animal rescue. There are too many animals put to sleep, and I just got really interested in finding a solution.”

For him, that solution ended up being coffee. Combining his passion for animal rescue and his love of coffee, Karcher launched Grounds & Hounds Coffee Company in March 2014. The Web-based company offers organic, fair-trade coffee with a full 20 percent of sales donated to no-kill animal shelters nationwide.

“My first mission was saving animals, and to do that I wanted a product that’s not too expensive, that’s attainable to everybody, and with an easy turnover for larger distribution and smaller donations,” he says. “I started tweaking ideas and a business model. In the meantime, I had been accepted into four MBA programs and chose Notre Dame’s two-year program.”

That choice turned out to be especially serendipitous. When he told his new MBA friends about his business idea, they insisted he meet Chris Stevens ’74, an adjunct management professor and cofounder of Keurig coffee systems.

“I emailed Professor Stevens and we met. He told me, ‘I love your idea. You should definitely do it.’ He gave me contacts in the coffee industry, too, that have been invaluable,” Karcher says.

“The fact that he came forward with his expertise and helped me push my business forward meant everything. It really speaks volumes about the professors here. They will do anything to support you. Professor Stevens was the last catalyst we needed to get this company off the ground.”

Karcher had originally decided to wait to launch the company until after he finished his MBA. “But the idea that 2.1 million dogs would be euthanized while I was waiting for a ‘better time’ was not something I could allow to happen,” he says. “Plus, when an opportunity such as this materializes, your original plan goes out the window.”

So he pushed forward, gaining help from MBA classmate, Stacey Meader, who has a career background in consumer insights and a passion for animal rescue.

“We did surveying and marketing research on what consumers were looking for and cost analysis and other research,” Karcher says. And there was hands-on learning every day. “We had to produce much faster than we originally planned. Brand awareness grew rapidly.”

He’s finding the experience exhilarating and humbling. “The support and encouragement that I have received from my family, friends and ND colleagues make every sleepless night and 20-hour work day a lot easier.”

So what’s next for Grounds & Hounds? “I have an idea of how I’d like to see the company grow,” Karcher says. “But I want to be sure to do what’s best for the brand and what’s best for rescue.”

For now, he and the others involved with Grounds & Hounds are riding high on the experience. “I love it,” he says. “Plus, every time I look at Molly, she reminds me why we do what we do.”