Many companies start with the idea of making a good product, and once they’ve succeeded, begin to donate some of their proceeds to philanthropic causes. In Jordan Karcher’s case, he started with the mission of saving shelter animals from euthanasia, and then looked for the perfect product to complement his cause.
“I grew up an animal person; I wanted to be a vet,” explained the founder and CEO of Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. “But going to school and playing sports, I didn’t have a lot of time to study, so instead I always had a menagerie of animals, and dogs were a huge part of my life.
“When I was 24, I became aware of animal euthanasia issues when I adopted my Dalmatian, Molly, from a shelter,” he continued. “As I learned more, I wanted to help animal rescue, so I started thinking about how to create a solution and additional funding for the cause through a product that could be tied back to make a meaningful impact.”
Karcher started conceptualizing Grounds & Hounds in 2013, and in 2014, sold his first bag of coffee. Today, the company, which sells organic and eco-friendly products, is growing by leaps and bounds and has already donated almost half a million dollars to shelters across the country.
“It struck me one morning while I was drinking coffee and walking Molly that almost every dog person I knew loved coffee; it’s part of the lifestyle,” said Karcher, a Pittsburgh native who now lives in Los Angeles. “There was a large enough overlap between dog ownership and the coffee-consuming market that I knew it would work. It was the perfect product for making my concept come to life.”
A 2005 graduate of Shaler High School—where the baseball park is named after his great uncle, Jerry Matulevic—Karcher was a star baseball player before an elbow injury sidelined that career choice. Initially following his father’s footsteps into the spirits business, he began working in the wine industry in Sonoma, CA where he first became familiar with the third-wave coffee movement led by small microroasters.
Pursuing this ‘side passion,’ he began Grounds & Hounds while studying for his MBA, and he sold furniture on Craigslist and eBay to raise money for the fledgling business.
“I really enjoyed the process of building a coffee company, though it was definitely to the detriment of sleep and doing other fun stuff while in grad school,” he laughed.
“I wanted to make the product amazing, so I focused on green coffee sourcing early, developing blends that other roasters couldn’t really create,” he added of the full bodied, savory products created by European style roasting. “People buy it because it’s great coffee that aligns with a mission, brand and community.”
Grounds & Hounds now partners with more than 650 animal rescue organizations working on root-cause initiatives to lower intake levels and reduce shelter overcrowding, which lessens the need for euthanasia.
“When I first started the company, shelters were euthanizing 1.9 million animals a year due to lack of space, which is completely absurd,” Karcher said. “While that number is now in the range of 500,000 euthanizations a year, that’s still far too many.”
Grounds & Hounds works with a number of Pittsburgh organizations, including Humane Animal Rescue, Animal Friends and No Dog Left Behind.
“We’ve partnered on galas, provided donations, and helped fund rescue transport programs,” said Karcher, adding that when pet owners purchase a dog license, they receive a coupon from Grounds & Hounds. “Animal Friends is part of our food donation program, where monthly donations are generated by our coffee club subscribers.”
Each year, the company has doubled its donations to animal rescue organizations and is on track to donate more than $1 million a year within the next two-and-a-half years. “The bigger we scale, the more impact we generate, and the more rapidly we can kick off donations,” said Karcher, adding that he plans to build his first brick-and-mortar store next year.
In addition to coffee products, which can be found online and in grocery stores including Market District, Grounds & Hounds also sells animal and coffee-themed merchandise.
“It’s the craziest thing,” laughed Karcher of the popularity of the company’s t-shirts and hats. “Every one of the slogans I’ve come up with somehow started with me sitting down to enjoy a cocktail on the couch with my dogs.”
Karcher is currently working on establishing even bigger partnerships, including a promotion with Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl that will launch in late December.
“We have a lot of fun rescue programs in the pipeline, including working with the Sato Project to bring animals in Puerto Rico—where they have a 95 percent euthanization rate—back to the U.S. to find homes,” he said. “Growing up in sports in Pittsburgh, I always idealized Roberto Clemente, who passed away while trying to make a difference in that country, and I feel like now things have come full circle.”
While saving dogs all over the world, Karcher still finds time for Molly and his newest rescue, Jasmine.
“Jasmine is a very goofy, sweet pit bull from Bakersfield who wouldn’t have gotten a second chance at a shelter,” he said. “She came into the house as a foster in June, and she was like a wild animal—so of course, I fell in love very quickly.
“I love pit bulls, which is another area of animal rescue that I’m passionate about,” he added. “Because this breed is so stigmatized, I take her everywhere with me, including restaurants and interviews, to show people who are afraid of the breed how sweet and loving they are.”
As Karcher’s company continues to grow, so does his mission to save even more animals. “I’m always grateful to anyone who buys our products, or who teams up to make a difference,” he said. “I appreciate that the Pittsburgh community has always embraced us, and I’m always happy to help.”
To learn more about Ground & Hounds, as well to get great holiday gift ideas, visit www.groundsandhoundscoffee.com.