It’s 5:45 AM on a Saturday morning and Eastonian Brad Hopkins has already made the sleepy trek from his cozy bed to a cold, pitch black downtown parking lot where his Bean: Coffee for a Cause coffee hut sits ready to welcome its earliest customers.
He quietly and routinely begins to brew his first handcrafted batch of piping hot coffee while intermittently flipping on various switches, powering up lights, a laptop, and some soulful music via satellite. He places a batch of homemade mac and cheese in the fridge and begins the prep work involved in making his increasingly popular “Go-Cones”—a savory meal served up in a travel-friendly and edible (gluten/sugar free) waffle cone.
But what truly sets Brad’s small business apart from most others is an ingredient that doesn’t involve drinks or cones. His business model is unique in that philanthropy is worked into its mission, with 10% of all gross revenue donated to a local nonprofit organization every month.
I joined Brad in his shack last week for some coffee and asked him how this concept came about. “Tom’s Shoes comes to mind. That’s inspirational,” says Brad. “They give away a pair to someone in need for every pair that they sell. Same goes for Warby Parker, giving a pair of glasses to a child in need for every pair purchased. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but have seldom, if ever, done something where the primary motivation was giving. So, this is an effort to explore whether it’s realistic or not to put giving first in a traditional business setting.”
Brad readily admits that he’s never considered himself a coffee junkie, just a bona fide foodie with great taste and a knack for listening and knowing what people want. So far it has served him well, as he shares that customers consistently find the coffee “exceptional.” Brad currently uses beans from Annapolis-based award-winning Caffé Pronto, beans better known across the bridge than around here.
“As far as I know I’m the only one using their beans on the Eastern Shore,” he says. “I’ve had people come back from Europe and tell me the espresso [at Bean] is better than what they had there. Listening to what people say is very significant.” Brad also recognizes and appreciates coffee’s recent history, from its explosion in the 1990s out of the Pacific Northwest to gourmet coffee chains selling a custom, higher-end caffeine experience.
“Starbucks helped to open the door to Americans beginning to think about coffee as an experience rather than as simply a stop,” he says. “They used or coined a phrase called ‘third place.’ You have home, you have work and now you have this third place. I’d like Bean to be a third place for our customers, too.”
Behind the hut, opposite the drive thru lane, lives the outdoor version of Bean’s third place. A separate walk-up window looks out on café-styled patio with chairs, tables, benches, and umbrellas that host dog-walkers, cyclists, and drivers looking to take a break with some thought-provoking conversation. On this particular day, unusually mild and sunny for December, some regulars spout off about everything from politics to relationships to the new iPhone. I dive into the conversation with a low-fat pumpkin spice latte in hand, chiming in on a video shared by the Bean’s rather clever, often humorous Facebook page where 200+ loyal followers post accolades and suggestions for Mr. Bean himself. Suddenly, I notice I’ve been engrossed in dialogue for 30 minutes and have to excuse myself from the group. I find it hard to leave. Could this be what Brad meant by “third place”?
Perusing the full menu before departing, I notice the extensive selection of options available for Bean’s 100% all-fruit smoothies. Everything from protein to green food to high-energy supplements can be added to your fruit fancy. Says Brad, “I have a lot of people who get a meal replacement smoothie from me at lunch, or after a workout. It’s all in there. There’s no added sugar and it has everything you need to get you through the day.” With the popularity of specialty smoothie shops in more urban areas, one can appreciate the hut boasting its smoothie-worthiness as much as its coffee credibility.
With all of these various offerings, Bean is worth checking out. It is open six days a week (closed Sunday) from 6 AM to 6 PM. Look for the hut at 204 N. Washington Street in downtown Easton, nestled next to Brasserie Brightwell Restaurant in the Easton Market Square. Grab your favorite coffee beverage, real fruit smoothie, Go-Cone, healthy burrito, or baked good, and relish in the fact that you’ve indirectly supported worthy, local charities such as Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Awareness, Chesapeake Film Festival, Talbot Hospice, or Bean’s most current partner, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy.
Keeping with his mission and the holiday spirit, Brad is also currently accepting canned food donations. Customers who donate canned items receive $1 off their order. ‘Tis the season!