Simone Ispahani, Founder + CEO of Social Brew: Coffee with Cause
As it's International Coffee Day, we’re shining a light on Social Brew, a specialty coffee company that gives 50 percent of its profits to causes related to helping survivors of human trafficking. Founded by 27-year-old entrepreneur, Simone Ispahani, who was first introduced to the issue of human trafficking while in college, then ended up co-leading a service trip to India to work with survivors. Her experience in India created a deep-seated passion for fighting against this injustice. She decided to combine this with her other passion, coffee, and created Social Brew in 2021. Now, with an online business including selling to hotels, and with plans for a future cafe, she is brewing up some positive change! We chat with Simone to learn herstory…
Before we get into your personal journey, what is the state of human trafficking today?
Sadly, human trafficking is a booming business that globally generates an estimated $150 billion in profits according to the International Labor Organisation (ILO). Despite increased awareness and efforts to tackle this human tragedy, the number of people in modern day slavery has risen significantly in the last five years, now estimated at 50 million people globally. Global unrest and the increase in poverty sparked by the pandemic is a big part of what’s driven these higher numbers.
That is terrible news, but it is great that you are trying to be part of the solution. Tell us about how you started Social Brew?
When I was in college, my school hosted a program to draw awareness to the issue of human trafficking. This was the first time I became aware of this on a global scale and even though I had no idea what I wanted to do professionally after college, I knew I wanted to do my part to put an end to human trafficking one day.
During my senior year, I was visiting my family in Hawaii. With graduation looming, I was thinking about my next steps. This is when I first thought about opening a coffee shop that would employ survivors of human trafficking. I was actually sitting at a café just off Kalakaua Avenue with my dad when the idea popped into my head.
I loved the idea of creating a space that people would want to visit — who doesn’t love a cute coffee shop? — with a strong social mission. At this time though, it was still just an idea.
Fast forward four years to 2020. A month into the pandemic, I was laid off from my job. In a way, I was relieved because I wasn't challenged or empowered at work.
This unexpected break from work gave me the chance to re-evaluate my career plans. I thought, maybe Social Brew didn’t have to be a pipe dream.
The COVID-19 crisis meant my initial vision of a physical coffee collective would have to be on indefinite hold. I decided I would launch an e-commerce website within a year. Social Brew launched in October 2021, and I'm learning more lessons every day about how to run a successful mission-driven business.
Now, talk to us about the coffee!
When ideating the Social Brew product line, I wanted to be intentional about the types of beans selected and, of course, ensure they resulted in a delicious cup of coffee people would want to purchase and thus drive profits to our partner organizations.
Given my roots in Hawaii and love of Hawaiian coffee, I knew I wanted to start there and with the help of industry experts and a ton of research, we landed on four different amazing blends from Hawaii and South America: 100% Kona Coffee, 100% Waialua Coffee, Hawaiian Blend Coffee and Decaf Brazil Coffee.
Each blend comes from high quality coffee beans that are roasted to perfection. I like to think Social Brew coffees offer coffee lovers a satisfying daily journey, rather than just a morning habit.
Amazing. Which hotels are you in and how can other hotels buy Social Brew?
Social Brew coffee is currently located in the retail store at The Kahala Hotel & Resort in Hawaii and we’d love to be in more! The best way for other hotels to buy Social Brew is to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who are your current charity partners, and how did you pick them?
Right now, we work with two amazing charity partner organizations – Denver-based Beautiful Feet Wellness, which provides wellness services to individuals freed from human trafficking, and Honolulu-based Ho’ōla Nā Pua, which is committed to the prevention of sex trafficking and providing care for children who have been exploited.
Of course, there are so many incredible non-profits fighting against the horrors of human trafficking, but I knew I wanted to use Social Brew as a way to spotlight organizations that are not as predominantly featured in the media as some of the larger organizations out there and help spread awareness about their amazing work.
I was also really attracted to the message behind each of the organizations – the importance of treatment and rehabilitation. For example, Beautiful Feet Wellness offers survivors healing and restorative fitness programs to help them discover healing through fitness, self-care and wellness practices. Their work is such a beautiful way to help survivors and it felt aligned with our mission at Social Brew.
What has been the hardest part of founding and running a start-up?
As you can imagine, there’s a long list of challenges founders of start-ups can face, but speaking from my own experience, I’d say the hardest part has been to not get discouraged and to keep going. No matter how organized you are or how passionate you feel about your business, there will always be people who might not believe in your idea or roadblocks that get in the way of your progress. Rather than seeing these as reasons to give up, I try to see them as motivation to work harder and pour myself into my business.
Also, launching Social Brew during the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to find a network of like-minded female entrepreneurs. There are so many amazing female founders here in California, and though I am starting to grow my network and have the opportunity to learn from these incredible women, it was difficult to find that group when we were in the midst of such an uncertain time.
Lastly, I’d say teaching myself everything from the ins and outs of e-commerce, to the business logistics were one of the most challenging parts to pick up. But I quickly learned it’s all about who you hire. There are so many talented individuals who are experts in their area. To be successful, it’s important to realize this and hire people who are smarter and more experienced in the areas you don’t feel as confident in.
What is next for Social Brew?
My main goal is to build on the momentum we’ve achieved and get Social Brew into as many hands as possible. The more profitable we are, the more money we can send to our partner organizations and make a significant impact. I also hope to one day expand the number of human trafficking non-profits we support with our donations.
I’d also love to go back to my initial idea for Social Brew and open cafes where we can work with different non-profit organizations and create job opportunities for human trafficking survivors. That would be the ultimate goal for Social Brew and one I hope to see come to fruition in the near future.
What top trends do you see happening in coffee consumption?
Caring where your coffee comes from! Whether that’s looking at the environmental impact of the farm-to-table coffee process or the intent behind a coffee company, consumers are caring more about where their coffee is coming from. For many of us, coffee is part of our daily routine. This gives us an opportunity to make sure we’re doing our part in making the world a better place as part of this ritual.
No rules – CBD, lavender, creative lattes, etc. In almost any coffee shop you walk into, especially in LA or NYC, there are some wild coffee combinations available now. Gone are the days of a black coffee – it almost seems the crazier your order, the more fuel your coffee will give you. It’s been really interesting to see!
Whipped coffees are still in – dalgona or whipped coffee went viral in 2020 as one of the many recipes TikTokers obsessed over as we were all staying indoors, but it seems to be here to stay! If not whipped coffee, many are opting for whipped milks and creamers for an esthetic morning boost.
Speaking of milk…non-dairy milk is here to stay! At one point in time, if you wanted an oat milk latte, you’d likely need to find yourself in a tiny coffee shop serving up avocado toast. Now, major chains, grocery stores and restaurants (and the small coffee shops we still adore!) all cater to this growing trend. I think this one will continue to gain momentum and I’m so curious to see what the next hot “milk” will be.