Patrons stopping in to Blue State Coffee on Wall Street for their afternoon caffeine were in for a hot treat: a free cup of joe.
“I am very OK with this,” said Yale Law student Carly Zubrzycki, dropping a little milk into her free small coffee. “I’d heard rumors about this but I’d forgotten—it was a happy accident that I decided to come here today.”
All that free java was meant to celebrate the $250,000 Blue State has given to charity since the first store opened in Providence in 2007. Now there are two stores in Providence, two in New Haven, and one in Boston.
“It’s a real milestone for us—for something that really started as a high school project between son and father,” said 22-year-old co-founder and CEO Drew Ruben, now a senior at Yale. “It sort of indicates our business model—that a business can care about both profit and socially conscious work.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the shop on Wall Street was buzzing with customers, many of whom were surprised by the free cup.
“I think this is really great,’ said Juliette Jeanfreau, a student at Yale Divinity School, who started working at Blue State in August of last year. “People are surprised by it but they’re the ones who made this all possible.”
Blue State gives away 2 percent of its profits to charities chosen by its customers, with a new set of not-for-profits chosen every six months. On the board this month: New Haven Housing Services, Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, New Haven Pride Center and Elm City ECHO.
“I started this business with my parents in 2004,” Ruben explained. It began as a website, selling coffee online and giving away 50 percent of profits, with a focus on political activism and community involvement.
“My initial focus was on getting people involved in Democratic politics, and then we moved into supporting non-profit organizations that do work that is ‘liberal,’ broadly defined,” Ruben said. “The places that try to make the community better.”
Ruben and Blue State were honored today with an Elm-Ivy Award—given out to individuals working to improve the city.
What started at 50 percent of profits has become 2 percent of sales.
“We didn’t really know what would be a sustainable commitment for our business to make,” Ruben explained. “I think we initially overstated what we could manage to give away, and now we’ve found a balance that works.”