It was a hot, crowded season in Sag Harbor — the dreamy town nestled on the northernmost point of the Hamptons’ south fork — and Lynda Sylvester had an idea. Her home furnishing store, Sylvester & Co., needed a product that would lure customers back in long after they’d stocked up on soft throws and sweet bath oils. And since most of the iced coffee offerings in the neighborhood consisted of brewing burned, hot coffee and pouring it over ice, she turned her attention to cold brew. Thus, Red Thread Good was born.
“Many cultures have been doing daily cold brew for so long…roasting and brewing in India, Japan, and Africa,” says Eda Kapsis, Red Thread Good’s CEO. “So Lynda started adapting recipes from those cultures, learning how it ultimately comes down to how your produce and filter it.” Sylvester served her cold brew on tap at the store, and all of a sudden people were bicycling up from Montauk and waiting in line to buy mugs and rugs along with their coffee.
Realizing that java was her new big money maker, Sylvester pulled in Vivian Polak and Michelle Francis to make Red Thread Good something all its own, and the three co-founders set out on a mission.
The coffee at the store would always be served cold on tap — but available hot as well. The beans would only be organic and would only be bought through vendors with a transparent and fair supply chain. Finally, part of Red Thread Good’s work would be philanthropic, giving back to local charities and coffee growers and their workers.
In 2014, the trio started with three bottled cold-brew offerings: “Dreamy” (Lynda’s hallmark blend of Peruvian and Columbian beans with a hint of organic chocolate), “Coconut,” and a single-origin Nicaraguan “Purist.” They self-distributed a few hundred cases of twelve-ounce bottles to local markets, while keeping on-tap cold brew, hot coffee, and beans available at the store. When Kapsis joined, in January of 2015, they were expanding into Union Market and Whole Foods, and partnering with trucking companies.
But wanting to retain the ethos of a small business while expanding production would prove to be a challenge for Red Thread Good.
The beans aren’t roasted and processed at a tiny Sag Harbor store, obviously; this is a hard task for even the most commercial of cold-brewers. Instead, they partner with several roasters, making sure that the globally sourced beans are fair trade and up to the standards of the high-quality umbrella that the team requires. Because Red Thread Good is committed to being a local product — roasting, brewing, packaging, shipping, and overseeing all production locally — their partnership with distributors was going to be limited, as many beverage companies produce en masse in large facilities and ship out from there. So they partnered with Dora’s Naturals, a beverage distributor in the tristate area that helped them quadruple their store outreach from fifty to two hundred stores in a relatively short amount of time. By the start of 2016, they started building café spaces within corporate offices and donating their cold brew to charitable organizations…which is where the heart of Red Thread Good lies.
Two cents of every cold brew concentrate, and 48 cents of each bag of beans purchased, are donated to God’s Love We Deliver, an organization that provides nourishing meals to those living with serious illnesses. The team volunteers to do kitchen prep at Gods Love every few months, chopping cauliflower and celery. They’re also starting to work with organizations that focus on AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer’s research — but it doesn’t stop there.
The team feels strongly that the income their product generates should extend further than their own pockets, the organizations they support philanthropically, or the fair-trade (hopefully soon-to-be direct-trade) relationships they have with their bean suppliers. While they don’t make a fuss about how they’re a woman-owned company, they took the time and care to get Red Thread Good certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
“Organizations that stand behind WBENC demand certification because it is still really difficult for them to work with women-owned companies,” Kapsis says. “And it’s important to them that they’re trying to move the needle in the way things are changing.”
She points out that visibility is a major factor in helping companies grow, and that the demographic of big business will not improve for women unless those kinds of partnerships can more easily be made. Their absence is something she sees clearly within her web of partners.
“When we look at distributors and the grocery companies and such we partner with, there’s not one led by women,” Kapsis says. “It’s extraordinary. There are a lot of food and beverage companies run by women, but even at the marketing and strategy level, we’re not finding partners that are owned and are operated by women. I feel a very strong personal kinship to all the generations of women working and how we need to change this — and so finding positive voices in how to make this happen is where we’re at. We don’t chase it because it’s ‘feminist’ or the right thing to do; it really is about making the world a better place.”
Which, of course, goes back to the beans.
“We feel strongly about single-origin brewing,” Kapsis explains. “It makes a difference in the taste, the quality of the bean, and the process. So we focus on single-origin when possible. That’s something we want to keep going with.” Their single-origin “Purist” line includes Nicaraguan Segovia and Sumatran Tunas Indah beans, and they have a new Sumatran coming up that she claims is particularly special. “We just started working this extraordinary co-op of growers who just got their work back together after the tsunami there, bringing in a crop they’ve just started to regrow. We’re really happy to support them and their regrowth there.”
Red Thread Good now ships out sixteen-ounce jars of their concentrated cold brew, plus bags of beans and single-serve K-cups. While they’ve grown to shipping out up to 2,000 cases a month, they want people to know that their real growth is still happening outside of the bean and bottle.
“In the big picture, we would like every business to practice ‘conscientious consumerism.’ Your dollar can do more than provide you with just a service,” Kapsis says. “Radical transparency is a phenomenal mantra. I think both consumer and business can elevate to do more: Why don’t we think about how the person who grows your coffee eats every time you drink that cup of coffee? Living and practicing that kind of vision can change how you change your life, and ultimately make it more fun.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 20, 2016