Michigan entrepreneur of the year donated coffee to help struggling cafes reopen after pandemic shutdown

Michigan entrepreneur of the year donated coffee to help struggling cafes reopen after pandemic shutdown

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A Grandville-based coffee roaster is being recognized for supporting its business partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Littlefoot Coffee Roasters has received the 2021 Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Michigan State University Product Center, which provides support and services for businesses in the food, agriculture and natural resources sectors.

Littlefoot, which sells coffee beans to retailers and cafes, launched campaigns to support coffee shops and nonprofits shortly after the coronavirus pandemic hit Michigan in March 2020. Since then, it has donated more than $4,000 and 120 pounds of coffee as part of the effort

“When you’re a small cafe, the number of people who walk through your door everyday makes a huge impact on your success,” said Rosie Quasarano, who co-owns Littlefoot with Alex Burbo. “If you’re closed, that is just a really scary prospect.”

Quasarano and Burbo launched Littlefoot in 2017 while working in the coffee industry in Chicago. They moved into their current location in Grandville, 3049 Broadway Ave. SW, in 2019. Now, their coffee can be found at more than 20 stores in Michigan, including Westborn Markets and select Meijer stores.

In Grand Rapids, the coffee can be found at Martha’s Vineyard, South East Market and Bridge Street Market. It’s also served by several coffee shops and cafes, including Wildroast Coffee Co. in Grandville, Field and Fire café in Grand Rapids and Happy Cat Café in Grand Rapids.

Mollie Woods, director of the MSU Product Center, said Littlefoot was awarded the entrepreneur of the year award because of its “innovative business success” and “commitment to supporting others.”

“This demonstrates the type of creativity, innovation and community commitment that Michigan food companies will need to be successful in the long term,” she said.

Littlefoot has between eight to 10 blends of coffee, including seasonal varieties, as well as a coffee subscription program that offers weekly, bi-weekly and monthly coffee deliveries.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Littlefoot was still gaining its footing as a coffee roaster, Quasarano said. Like so many other businesses owners, Quasarano suddenly found herself navigating an uncertain future.

“We had just opened our warehouse the summer prior,” she said. “We were like very fresh in this new space and still building out our wholesale program. That abruptly came to a halt as some of our partners had to close their doors temporarily.”

Quasarano asked herself: How could Littlefoot help the coffee shops and cafes that buy the company’s beans?

“In that moment, it was just kind of this thought of if we can still operate in our warehouse because we’re not inherently public facing, how can we find a way to keep going to help our partners who had to close?” she said. “A big part of that came out of my experience of having owned my own café for five years.”

Littlefoot launched two support programs for cafes and nonprofits after the coronavirus pandemic hit Michigan.

The first was the Little Foot Coffee fund. The program, which ran from mid-March 2020 to mid-April 2020, donated $5 for every $20 spent at its online store to provide 120 pounds of free coffee to cafes in the region, Quasarano said.

The other program, which also launched in 2020, was Coffee for a Cause. Under the program, a portion of the sales of a select Littlefoot coffee blend are provided to cafes, coffee shops and nonprofits. To date, the program has provided over $4,000 to eight coffee shops and nonprofits, including Rose Gold Coffee Company in Kalamazoo and Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.

Quasarano said the idea behind the program is that a little help “goes a long way.”

“I think too often we imagine it has to be this big grand gesture to make a difference,” she said. “But just finding little ways to help or give back, especially during this past year when so many things were overwhelming … was what inspired us to do it.”

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