By Matthew Hacke | Photograph from Kelly Alison Photography
Born in Hershey, Pa., and raised in Pittsburgh, Jordan Karcher hoped to live up to the City of Champions’ reputation by playing sports professionally. “When I grew up here, knowing this city, I was more focused on athletics and was primarily an athlete,” he says. “When I left high school, I went to play baseball at Florida International University. Initially, that was my business plan and I figured that maybe I could try and make some money playing sports for a while, but then I got injured.” When his intended career path was thrown a curve ball, Karcher decided to move to California after graduating, where he spent six years in the wine and spirits industry. “I was out west working with different brands — different spirit brands, especially — somewhere I would see a brand come together from scratch and become an internationally renowned product,” he says. Seeing this process firsthand peaked Karcher’s interest and he knew that he one day wanted to create a product, a product that made a difference in others’ lives as well. “Working in this industry, I realized that this is what I’m really interested in — creating something that can have an influence and be enjoyed across boundaries, but at the same time, generate a true impact.”
It wasn’t until he had a chance encounter with a dog that Karcher’s idea of creating an impactful product began to brew. “I was walking to breakfast one day in Los Angeles and saw six or seven Dalmatians at this little pop-up adoption on the side of the road,” he says. “So, I went over to play with the dogs. This brown-and-white, skinny, malnourished Dalmatian came over and crawled up in my lap. I had the instant connection with her. She buried her nose in my jacket pocket and right away I said, ‘What do I need to do to make sure she leaves with me today?’ The next thing you know, I’m in a PetSmart with her.” This pup, named Molly, became the impetus of his future company, Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. “In 2012, after I had adopted Molly, she kind of opened up my eyes and my whole existence to this world of pet parents, especially in the rescue space,” continues Karcher. “I started going to dog birthday parties and getting invited out for drinks with people and their dogs. I realized that there is this whole market of people out there who have a central point of their lives based around their dogs. At the same time, I was also volunteering with animal rescues and began to explore alternative ways to help generate funding for these groups.”
Shortly after, Karcher moved from Los Angeles to South Bend, Ind., to pursue his MBA at the University of Notre Dame, where the business model and concept of Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. began to quickly form. “The whole catalyst for the idea of Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. came together for two reasons,” Karcher explains. “The first reason was to help animal rescues and impact the space. So many animals are being unnecessarily euthanized and entering into this shelter system because of overpopulation, shelter overcrowding, and causes that can be addressed. The second reason was kind of just more of a natural evolution that triggered the true identity for Grounds & Hounds. I slowly began to realize that when I woke each morning, the two things that made my alarm clock more bearable were a good cup of coffee and spending time with my dog. Those were the constants in my morning.” It finally dawned on Karcher to combine these two staples in his life, dogs and coffee, creating a product whose proceeds support these animal shelters. “I started to think, ‘I can’t be the only person who experiences and looks forward to this daily morning routine.’ So, Ground & Hounds Coffee Co. kind of grew from this insight. I didn’t set out to start a company, but the concept and idea seemed to find me.”
As soon as Karcher developed the mission of Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co., he went to work on making his new career path a reality. “We didn’t raise capital when I began the company. I bootstrapped it by selling furniture on Craigslist and using any available cash I had, so it was a very lean process,” he says with a laugh. “It was a lot of cold calls early on to these rescue spaces and groups, telling them about our idea.” Karcher’s drive, motivation, and unique business model helped him get the company off the ground — particularly with the fact that 20 percent of proceeds from each bag of coffee sold are given to rescue partners. “What helps us and kind of makes us unique in the social impact space is rather than just having one rescue group or two rescue groups that we split funds [between] we try to keep our funding and donations local,” says Karcher. “This allows us to make sure that the consumers’ purchases benefit their communities and that they will eventually see impact from their purchases.”
Having worked with and supported over 85 rescue groups nationally since the company’s establishment in 2012, Karcher has seen the positive impact that Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. has had for these partners. “Locally in Western PA, for example, Humane Animal Rescue has been using funds for shelter wellness and improvement for the animals waiting to be adopted,” Karcher says. “So, the funds are actually being used for the improvement of the mental wellness of the animals in the actual holding facilities by providing them with things such as toys, food, and blankets. With the proceeds donated from the sale of the coffee, Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. is not necessarily a company just giving rescue partners a check; We’re starting to look at collaborative programs where we can address certain key issues at ground zero. Therefore, we are looking at things such as eliminating puppy mills, eradicating dog fighting, or simply providing food for actual pet owners who need a little help providing for their pets. What we are starting to look at more is the impact versus just how much money can we send out.”
It all starts with the coffee. Karcher creates the blends with his roasting team in the Midwest, which come in a variety of mainstay and seasonal flavors with suitably catchy names, such as “Sit & Stay” and “Morning Walk.” The products can be found online and locally in stores such as Giant Eagle Market District, Camp Bow Wow locations, Bryant Street Market in Highland Park, Feast on Brilliant in Aspinwall, and Soergel Orchards. “The beans are 100 percent fair trade, organic,” Karcher says. “We bring them in seasonally from wherever we get the best possible green coffee. We work a lot with Latin America and South America and currently offer single origin blends from Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia. So, our goal on the coffee side of the business is to try to keep introducing new regions to our consumers and feature different types of single origin coffees and blend styles.”
Four years into the business, Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co., at the helm of Karcher, is already making progress on future company growth as well, which includes opening brick-and-mortar cafes down the line. “In the short term, our focus is to continue rolling out improved impact programs in the cities where our rescue partners are located. So, whether it’s providing pet food for low-income households, helping with legislation, or opening up more dog-friendly apartment units, those are things we are going to explore and focus on to keep shelter intake levels down,” he says. “Long term, our goal is to improve the coffee’s availability in retail locations throughout the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast. And of course, we have the concept for brick-and-mortar cafes in the works, but I’m trying to determine when and how to do it properly to ensure the first location sets the stage for us to execute and replicate the concept and provide support for impactful programs throughout the country.”
As he reflects on adopting Molly — who just celebrated her sixth birthday — his business today, and where his life has taken him since his days of playing collegiate sports and working in the wine and spirits industry, it’s a poignant moment for Karcher. “I had no plans for adopting Molly, but it was a great chance encounter and has drastically changed the trajectory of my life since then,” he says. “I often wonder what my life would have been like had I had self-control and just walked to breakfast and not stopped and found Molly. This experience has made me a huge advocate for rescues. It may not always seem like the best time, but if you’re dedicated and you can provide a great opportunity for the dogs, it’s going to come back to you tenfold.”
Try some of Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co.’s most popular and tasty flavors:
The company’s most popular blend, Alpha, is a dark roast made from Arabica beans sourced from Guatemala, Colombia, and Sumatra. It’s a smoky, but smooth and sweet French roast with notes of nutmeg, vanilla, and cocoa.
Paper & Slippers Blend
A medium roast with beans sourced from Nicaragua, Peru, and Mexico, Paper & Slippers features a more fruit-forward taste with notes of blackberry and blueberry to complement the brownie and toasted nut flavor.
Morning Walk Blend
The company’s first blend ever created, Morning Walk is a full-body blend perfect for getting your day started! Notes of sweet cherry and toasted nut can be found throughout.
Sit & Stay Blend
One of the company’s newest blends, Sit & Stay is a medium dark roast made from a blend of beans sourced from Papua New Guinea, Peru, and Mexico. This savory blend contains notes of chocolate and marshmallows.
SEASONAL: Sunny Spot Summer Blend
The seasonal Sunny Spot Summer Blend is a light and refreshing roast made with beans from Mexico, Ethiopia, and Columbia. Notes of toasted vanilla, fig, pecan, and honeycomb combine for a delicious taste.