What: Cause Driven Coffee LLC, DBA Coffee4Kids

What it does: Roasts and distributes coffee, donating $1 per pound to a children’s home in El Salvador

Pictured: Founder Sean McDonell and roaster Kevin Bryan

Where: 61228 Brittlebush St., Bend

Employees: 2

Phone: 541-648-9986

Website: www.coffee4kids.org

Sean McDonell grew up working for his father’s Portland vending business and spent summers in El Salvador, where his parents run a not-for-profit children’s home.

He inherited his father’s energy, but he didn’t think he had the same heart. A few years into a successful career as an investment adviser at Merrill Lynch in Bend, McDonell started to ask himself, “Is this all that I’m doing?”

McDonell, 31, decided in 2013 to start a business that would help support the children’s home, Mi Casa International. Talking to a cousin who runs a small, neighborhood coffee-roasting shop in El Salvador, he heard about attractive profit margins on the importation and distribution of coffee. So he started packing whole green beans into his luggage with the intent of roasting and selling them to grocery stores and restaurants in Bend. McDonell named the business Coffee4Kids because he donates $1 per pound sold to the children’s home.

McDonell, who didn’t even drink coffee, admits that he had “no idea” what he was doing. “I worked backwards,” he said.

Coffee4Kids’ coffee is now sold in 32 restaurants and grocery stores, mostly in Central Oregon. The company’s nitro coffee, which is a cold brew made bubbly with food-grade nitrogen, is in 18 locations. McDonell left Merrill Lynch, where he was a client associate, in March. That’s also when the company purchased its first roasting machine, and McDonell’s friend, Kevin Bryan, joined the company as its first full-time roaster.

McDonell said he hopes to continue growing the wholesale business and open a retail outlet in a few years.

“It has to be quality coffee, and I have to do things other roasters aren’t,” McDonell said. “The cause can’t carry me through.”

McDonell might never have started if he weren’t completely naive about the coffee-roasting business. He approached several local roasters before Backporch Coffee Roasters allowed him to hire a roaster, Peter West, on a contract basis and use the company’s equipment.

Then McDonell had to sell the coffee. “It hasn’t been easy,” he said. “Local roasters have long-standing relationships with these businesses.”

McDonell is a relentless salesman. He said he landed some accounts after showing up every week for nine months. One of the first local businesses to sell Coffee4Kids was Newport Avenue Market. The coffee is also sold at Chow and Mother’s Juice Cafe in Bend. Coffee4Kids donated more than $4,000 to Mi Casa International in 2016, and about a quarter of that was generated by Chow, McDonell said.

He’s been selling since he was a child, when he would approach Portland businesses for Fast Break vending, which Bob McDonell sold in 2004. “That’s where I learned to sell and work hard,” Sean McDonell said.

The elder McDonell started Mi Casa International in 1989 because he’d been so disturbed by the children he saw living on the streets in El Salvador during the country’s 12-year civil war. McDonell’s wife, Maricela, is Salvadoran. The couple now live in the country full-time and work at the children’s home, which receives children referred from government-run homes. The civil war has ended, but children from poor families are still vulnerable to gang activity.

Sean McDonell said his coffee business will always be cause-driven because that’s what drives him. “I’m good at things I’m passionate about,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected from the original to reflect Sean McDonnell’s position with Merrill Lynch.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmcluaghlin@bendbulletin.com

Q: How can you afford to donate $1 per pound of coffee sold?

A: Efficiency. We have to be very efficient. The margins in coffee are like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s a drug. With no other product could I do this.

Q: Where do you see the business in five years?

A: I see us proving our concept in Central Oregon, getting that done in two years, and then having a retail location.

Q: Do you drink coffee now?

A: Yes, nitro. If I was a coffee, I would be a nitro coffee.

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