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Black Bear Diner Launches Bears Brew Back Program in Nicaragua


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Photo Courtesy of Black Bear Diner

Bruce Dean, co-founder of Western family restaurant chain Black Bear Diner, has always had an interest in the political and social issues in Nicaragua, where the company sources the majority of its coffee. Using the success of his company to help the communities growing this coffee, Black Bear Diner launched Bears Brew Back.

“We came back [from our original trip] and just thought, what can we do?” said Dean of the first time the Black Bear team had visited Nicaraguan coffee plantations. Many families travel from plantation to plantation, with parents picking on steep slopes and kids missing school to perform chores such as fetching water from a mile away.

Black Bear Diner decided to help out by purchasing all of its coffee from Java City Coffee, a specialty coffee roaster and wholesaler based in Sacramento, California. By working out a deal with Java City, a certain amount of cents per pound of coffee goes toward a fund, which the program Bears Brew Back has been built around.

The funds will go to the Global Aldea Foundation, a nonprofit in Nicaragua that will provide a clean water system and medical van for those in the community of Mancotal. “We just talked to them and asked, ‘what are the challenges in your life?’” Dean said of their second visit to the Nicaraguan community. “We appreciate you growing coffee for us, what can we do for you?”

Clean water and medical attention were two of the biggest problems in the community, so Dean mentioned that these are the main priorities of the Bears Brew Back program, which is already in action. Black Bear Diner is serving Java City coffee at all of its 114 locations, and the Global Aldea Foundation is in the process of getting bids from local contractors to build a new water system, which will put running water in Mancotal homes.

“We hope to have the well in place and distributing water by the end of November,” Dean said, expressing a genuine concern that his company follow through by giving this community what it has promised it.

To address the additional issue of children not going to school because of lack of supplies, Black Bear Diner packed up more than 1,000 backpacks filled with school supplies and shipped them to the Mancotal area. Dean estimated there are more than 40,000 children in the surrounding area that don’t go to school due to little money for pencils, paper and other necessary supplies. “They’re hopefully going to get a lot out of it, and we’re going to get a lot out of it,” he said of this additional piece of the initiative.

While it’s clear Black Bear wants to give back to this community, Dean also stressed that the micro-growers didn’t want a “hand out.” He described a meeting with 50-plus coffee growers and land owners from Mancotal—mostly women, which he mentioned is rare in Nicaragua—where they were able to just discuss what could be done to improve the lives of those picking the coffee Black Bear serves.

“We made a commitment to this area to buy as much women-grown coffee as we could,” Dean said. “We’re buying from a lot of farmers in this area.”

The program is mainly funded by Black Bear Diner’s coffee purchases, but there is an additional coffee line under the Bears Brew Back brand. Customers can order online and all proceeds go towards the Nicaraguan community.

At its franchise conference earlier this year, Black Bear Diner franchisees also donated more than $15,000 to the program. “It’s wonderful coffee and I want to make sure they know we appreciate it,” Dean said.

Black Bear Diner also partners with Round It Up America, a nonprofit that lets customers “round up” their purchases to the nearest whole dollar, with those proceeds going to various charities such as Feeding America and Make a Wish.

“The more we grow, the more funds we’re going to generate, and the more we can do in this area,” Dean said of his hopes to expand further outside this area in Nicaragua. “It’s really important to me and I want to make sure these things actually happen.”

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Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is senior editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
 
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