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    LGBT-Owned Equator Coffees & Teas Is 2016 National Small Business of the Year

    LGBT-owned Equator Coffees & Teas was recently named 2016 National Small Business of the Year. The San Rafael-based business previously was honored as being the 2016 California Small Business of the Year, making the coffee company the first LGBT-owned business—certified as an LGBTBE by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce—to receive the awards.

    Partners Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell co-founded Equator Coffees & Teas, Inc. in 1995 in a small, Marin County garage. The company has since grown into a 5,500-square-foot flagship roastery in San Rafael with a thriving wholesale business. More than twenty years after its founding, Equator now has 90 employees, more than 350 wholesale customers, retail cafes at LinkedIn, micro-kitchens at Google, and three retail stores in Northern California with two more on the way. Their loyal wholesale customers include Thomas Keller’s Michelin-starred The French Laundry and Traci Des Jardin’s Jardinière.

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    “Brooke and Helen’s shared love for artisan coffee and a desire to have an impact on an industry with evolving social, economic and environmental issues is profound,” said Chef Thomas Keller, whose restaurants serve its own unique blend of Equator Coffee. “It is their commitment to forging personal relationships with farmers and hands-on approach that make them inspirational leaders and business owners; they are most deserving of this prestigious award.” Equator strives to be a high-impact coffee company focused on sustainability, quality, and social responsibility, committed to transparency and empowerment initiatives at every step of the coffee supply chain.

    “This celebrated recognition of Helen and Brooke’s outstanding work not only exemplifies what we know of women in business leadership; it also illuminates an answer to the challenge of our time, demonstrating that businesses can be both successful and sustainable,” said California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. “Their example and their achievements set the standard for small businesses to follow and I congratulate them both on their contributions to the community and the state of California.”

    Equator was the first American coffee company to become a certified B-Corporation, and was at the forefront of pioneering the direct trade model that focuses on building trusting relationships with coffee producers. Equator finances social and environmental initiatives in coffee-producing countries and supports work in food security, community development, environmental stewardship, and women’s empowerment. The company planted a sustainably-planned high altitude coffee farm in Panama in 2008, and garnered a Good Food Award for the first harvest that arrived this year.

    “It is such an incredible honor to be recognized by the SBA as Small Business of the Year for the State of California, and we are grateful to the GGBA for advocating on our behalf, to Capital Access Group for nominating us for this prestigious award and to the NGLCC for being a champion for LGBTBE firms at the national and international levels,” said Helen Russell. “As an entrepreneur, a women-owned business and a LGBTBE-certified business, I am proud to say that the SBA has been there for Equator at all stages of our growth over the last 21 years. The SBA knows that small businesses like Equator are creating quality jobs and driving our economy. The SBA has had our back at important milestones in our evolution. We celebrate this achievement with our employees, our partners and our collective communities.”

    Equator earned its national honor earlier this month in Washington, D.C. For more information about this exceptional business: