José René Martínez opened J.René Coffee Roasters 14 years ago. Since then, the coffee shop has become a mainstay of the Park Road community in West Hartford, CT. For José, relationship building and community building go hand in hand ─ like coffee and pastry. And giving back was a natural progression, which inspired the evolution of the second brand, Victus Coffee.
José and seedership Co-founder Jennifer Smithberger discuss the value of creating opportunities for customers to effortlessly make a difference through ordinary purchases they make in their everyday lives.
Tell us about the importance of building relationships in your community.
JOSÉ RENÉ MARTÍNEZ: We love our neighborhood and our customers. I’ve seen people on their first dates end up married and watched them strolling in with their first child. Those relationships happen because we’re doing more than just selling a product.
JENNIFER SMITHBERGER: Your customers obviously appreciate those authentic connections. So, naturally they want to support the causes your business supports.
Why was it important for you create an opportunity for your customers to give back?
JOSÉ: With the success of J.René Coffee Roasters, I recognized that I’d reached a point in my professional career where I could give back and I saw an opportunity to use coffee to help nonprofit organizations.
I’m a product of the South Bronx in New York City and grew up living in housing projects. Giving back is important to me because I grew up with very little and learned a lot from my parents. My mother retired from teaching at age 82 and my father showed me some of the difficulties that come with agriculture and coffee farming.
So, I empathize with coffee farmers. I’ve travelled all over the world to visit their farms and I’ve been welcomed into their homes. I know what poverty tastes, smells and looks like. Having experienced these personal connections, I knew I wanted to do something to help.
How did you develop the concept for Victus Coffee?
JOSÉ: I’m a cycling enthusiast. So when I watched the documentary “Rising from the Ashes” about the first Rwandan National Cycling Team, which tells the story of five riders who became beacons of hope for their country, it inspired me to create Victus Coffee. We’ve recently re-ignited our partnership with Team Africa Rising, a nonprofit working to grow the sport of cycling throughout the continent, and we are donating $150 a month to their cause.
The goal for Victus Coffee is to provide great coffee and fuel great causes. For every bag of coffee purchased, $2 is donated to global organizations that promote wellness, including the CT Cycling Advancement Program(CCAP), Team Africa Rising and Foodshare.
Selling coffee through the shop and online provides customers the opportunity for a deeper connection with the coffee they already enjoy—in a new way with a new brand. They can visit the Victus Coffee website to learn more about the causes, purchase a coffee subscription, and even join us in the movement to promote wellness in their communities.
JENNIFER: It works well because customers want to know their spending makes an impact. They’re looking for opportunities to do good and seeking businesses that help them do so. Using a portion of customers’ purchases provides them with that opportunity and, over time, their contribution aggregates and creates an even greater impact.
How have others become involved?
JOSÉ: It happened so organically. I haven’t paid any of our ambassadors, those individuals who represent our brand. They just want to help spread our message. Victus Coffee has been endorsed by people in the cycling field, a professional tennis player and a race car driver. They’ve all looked at the brand and decided they wanted to be a part of this movement.
We’re always happy to have more people endorse our brand and drink our coffee. We can always do more when it comes to promoting wellness.
JENNIFER: These efforts help build the Victus Coffee community to an advanced level by involving a wider audience of well-known endurance athletes to help spread the message and encourage others to become involved.
How have you engaged the local community?
JOSÉ: We enjoy creating inclusive opportunities, whether you’re an athlete who wants to spend the afternoon with us or you just want to shop local and support good causes—or both.
For example, last February on Leap Day, we partnered with the CCAP for a 40-mile bike ride. It was a free event, but it helped get our message out there, share awareness of the CCAP’s mission—and engage our community.
Last June, the Victus Coffee team donated more than 100 bags of coffee to the Foodshare program in Hartford, CT. We couldn’t have made that donation without our customers purchasing Victus Coffee, both online and in our store. And, we were able to donate another 100 bags of coffee to Foodshare in February this year.
For our local running community, we partnered with Fleet Feet in West Hartford to offer a six-month subscription box that includes coffee and running gear to keep you fueled.
With Victus, we’re always looking to collaborate with like-minded organizations willing to align around a greater cause.
JENNIFER: Creating opportunities for local involvement also helps spread the word about the business. Victus Coffee clearly puts a lot of passion into its efforts to give back, whether its donating about $2,000 worth of coffee or spending time and energy to organize group rides. Sharing about the value of these efforts reinforces the authentic mission to fuel the community to support good causes.
With regard to giving back and getting involved in your community, any advice for other small business owners?
JOSÉ: It’s important to understand the roles we have as individuals and professionals. Any person or company of any size in any industry can make a difference, if they’re committed to championing a cause. If we really want to make an important mark on this world, it’s important that the ethos of giving back is the nucleus behind the product we serve. Our coffee provides an awesome vehicle where we can support meaningful causes by providing something people love.
We always look forward to developing meaningful relationships with the partners we work with—and our customers. Victus Coffee is a collective effort by so many people who do so much great work. And for that, I’m truly blessed.
JENNIFER: Making giving back as routine as brewing up a cup of your favorite coffee is a great concept—and satisfying, too. Victus Coffee has enabled customers to form a deeper connection and be a part of something larger than just buying coffee from a local shop. They know their purchases are making an impact.
JOSÉ: We’re committed to our Victus Coffee mission: To produce amazing coffee for those who love it and combine our craft with extraordinary partners to further great social causes. And we always say, great coffee fuels great causes.
To learn more about Victus Coffee and how you can help fuel great causes, visit victuscoffee.com.