A Taste of Culture: Bringing Caffeine and BJJ Together

7 min
Bean-To-Bean partnered with Daniel Gracie on a new line of coffee called “Gracie Grounds”… read how it all began and the amazing journey

A Taste of Culture: Bringing Caffeine and BJJ Together

Bean2Bean partnered with Daniel Gracie on a new line of coffee called “Gracie Grounds”… read how it all began and the amazing journey

Interviewee: Olivia Ditoro

Location: Via Zoom

Photo by: Ryan Spillman

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

If you love fresh coffee, or Daniel Gracie, then you’re in for a treat. Since 2013, Bean2Bean Coffee has been satisfying its customers with homegrown Brazilian brews. Recently, they’ve announced their partnership with the Gracie family with their new product “Gracie Grounds.” In this interview, Black Belt Magazine Jiu-Jitsu dives into the details behind the company’s history, their goals and visions for the future, and how they crossed paths with the Gracie’s, as well as the influence of coffee in both the Brazilian and the BJJ culture.

Tell us a bit about the history of Bean2Bean. When did you guys get started, and what were the thoughts behind it?

Our founder, Obel Hernandez Sr., started the company in 2013. He had 30 years of experience working for Maxwell House and Caribou coffee, and when he was ready to start his own company, he came back over to Philadelphia and ran the company from 2013 to 2016. Obel Hernandez Sr. also consults for the New York Stock Exchange. He’s one of 40 people in the world who has a license to grade coffee for the New York Stock Exchange, which means he’s up there usually one to two days a week grading coffee for the entire world. Obel is not only our resident coffee expert, but he’s nationally and internationally recognized as well, so we try to trust his judgment. 

Obel Hernandez Jr., his son, came on a few years later, I think in maybe 2016. They also have a childhood family friend who works as a part-owner. 

How did you go about the partnership with the Gracies?… What was the inspiration behind it? 

The way we got connected with the Gracie’s is that my brother trains at the Philadelphia Renzo-Gracie Academy with Daniel Gracie. That’s where that relationship started. After seeing them around several times, we talked to Daniel about it, and Daniel was all on board with the idea. So, we partnered up with them and created a private label, which is something we do infrequently. Right now, it’s quickly becoming our number one bestseller on the website. It’s gone through several test runs to get to the perfect match between roasting levels and different beans that they were sourcing. Between Daniel’s history with coffee being such a big part of his life and Obel Sr.’s expertise, they and the team were able to come up with something that was really representative of the culture.

Photo by: Ryan Spillman

That’s awesome to hear. As far as the actual coffee, are all the beans imported from Brazil?

It’s all from Brazil. They manufacture and grind everything in Philadelphia, but they’re imported as raw material, or green coffee, as we call it. Everything is locally packed and distributed out of Philadelphia. Quality is paramount, which, I think, is why when our partnership with Daniel Gracie came up, they valued the quality of the coffee that we were putting out to represent the Brazilian culture properly.

Photo by: Ryan Spillman

Well, I’m sold. What kinds of options are there for purchase with this blend? Is it going to be only offered in ground form, or are you looking at K cups also? 

It’ll be whole bean or ground. You have the option to choose what ground type you want, whether it’s a coarse, drip, or fine. Right now, the only option is a 12-ounce bag with more options coming in the future. We found, in general, that K-cups are really just not as fresh. The whole bean and the ground are the way to go. We are using a blend of natural coffees and washed coffees. That’s something my dad envisioned when talking to Daniel about what type of coffee we wanted to put together. It was definitely going to be a Brazilian coffee, but which types of coffee and which processes to put all that together was the question. When we finally went ahead and presented what we had to Daniel, he loved it. 

Photo by: Ryan Spillman

I can tell the quality is a huge priority for your products. Does that translate into other aspects of your company as well? What would you say is the overall vision of the company?  

We strive to create an environment and a company culture that appeals to people outside the conventional norms, so we have a heavy focus on artistry, photography, and creativity. We want coffee drinkers who are thinkers and dreamers that can think outside the box with an unconventional way of doing things. If you go on any of our social media, we do things a little bit differently around here. We don’t want to send out bland product emails, but we’re sending cool and insightful newsletters that feature people such as Daniel Gracie instead.

We try to really highlight the people in the community, locally and nationally alike. When we look at our priorities in a big-picture mindset, Bean2Bean is more on the lifestyle side of things. We like building relationships with people, and not just with our customers; we want to develop these relationships because we think that’s going to help us grow and make us different from everyone else. It’s expected that if we’re a coffee company, we have great coffee. However, we realize that we can bring more to the table than just great coffee, and by getting to know our communities, we will always have opportunities to set ourselves apart from the competition.

Photo by: Ryan Spillman

It’s kind of like the start of every conversation. Coffee is a major conduit for us to not only build but maintain these relationships with people. And coffee helps us do that in different areas of our community that we probably wouldn’t have gone to before we started. We support artistry, generosity, and education. That’s kind of our mission statement; we want to be that kind of one-stop-shop for everything coffee, not just product-based but education-based and community-based… being that reliable brand that puts out the best information, in the most exciting way, and that’s the most relatable to the people that walk into our stores and visit our websites.

Where do you see your company growing in the future? Do you see Bean2Bean branching out eventually into a full retail storefront, and what do you see five years from now as a company?

We want to grow heavily on our online commerce. We are looking to expand nationally, and right now, we’re just primarily regional. We want to definitely grow regionally in three years and nationally in five. As far as retail stores go, every Friday from 8:30am – 1:30pm we open up our facility so the community can come and purchase coffee on a special for $10 a pound. We also work with our wholesale coffee partners to bring back fresh baked bagels and pastries to the facility every Friday morning.

That’s beginning to grow more, and it’s making us think that we will probably have a physical retail location within the next five years. Right now, we’re actually just wholesale and e-commerce. Over COVID, we committed ourselves significantly to retail because most wholesale accounts were no longer open, so we had to kind of figure out how to make that work. We offer next-day delivery in Philadelphia, and now we’re beginning to expand outside of it, into the Philadelphia region. We have a couple of wholesale accounts in New York, Delaware, New Jersey, and LA.  

E-commerce was something that came up as a blessing during COVID. We started out as a strictly wholesale company, but a lot of friends and family were always asking us for coffee, and so we put together a website where they could order our coffee and that would complement our daily operations. We launched that website in February, and without that website, we would have been out of business right about now.

Can you speak a little bit about the challenges you faced in transitioning into almost entirely an E-commerce company during COVID?

It was mainly about working closely with our partners for our branding and packaging, ensuring that we could get the supplies that we needed to fulfill orders and transition, and make it from not only wholesale but into direct consumer on E-commerce. We also had to set up marketing messages that would say, “Now we will deliver direct to your door, and we will deliver it next day guarantee,” and that was probably the most challenging part… making Philadelphians aware that this is something new that we offered.

To continue building a community around coffee, we put together some private labels and partnered up with a couple of other local Philadelphia brands throughout the pandemic. We were hand-delivering letters and postcards, which was something that I think is a little different for our brand. As a small team of five to seven of us, we were hand-delivering letters across the city. We probably did 10,000 homes where we handed out letters. It was intense in the summer, with all the rain and wearing a mask in the heat.

It was… memorable, to say the least, but it was the way we knew we could get their attention, going right to their door with some literature. It wasn’t just a random letter; we signed them. We wanted to look like it was coming from their neighbor… because it was! Personalized touch makes all the difference for us. Everyone gets emails; it’s just click click click done. Now personal touch, that says a lot. 

It’s touching to hear how you look out for your community during times of stress like that. There seem to be many similarities between your business model in the coffee world and the structure and customs of BJJ.

That’s something we’re learning a lot, to be honest, between working with Daniel, writing his story, and getting to know him. He can see that there’s a very natural connection between Jiu-Jitsu and the passion behind it. The Gracie family wanted to bring Jiu-Jitsu to America to let everyone know that it is the most effective martial art, and it takes a gentle kind of touch to make that special here, and that’s what they did with Jiu-Jitsu, and that’s what we wanted to do with coffee. So, there is very much a sort of connection between the two of us. Coffee brings people together, just like Jiu-Jitsu; it’s something pretty much everyone can get behind!

Photo by: Ryan Spillman

Final Words

Coffee is important to so many of us, and Bean2Bean strives its very best to not only represent its guarantee of high quality but to also take pride in its roots as a specialty coffee company. Whether you’re a coffee-lover or an avid fan of the Gracie family, you’ll want to get your hands on a cup of their signature blend, “Gracie Grounds.” There’s nothing better than high-quality coffee where you can taste the culture!

Order yours here at: www.bean2bean.com/shop/graciegrounds

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