South Bend Business owner makes 'Coffee with Compassion' to give back during Black History Month

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Importin' Joe's Coffee is a delivery-based coffee business that opened in South Bend during the pandemic, but the owner said he didn't open it to make the most money. He did so to make the biggest difference. He sells Ethiopian coffee to raise awareness of his mission to end child homelessness in Ethiopia. February has been more locally focused. He spent the last month delivering coffee and donuts to schools, first responders, and frontline workers all free of charge in recognition of Black History Month.

"We source pure direct trade Ethiopian coffee single-origin,” said the owner, Joseph Luten. "My wife and I developed a supply chain from Ethiopia all the way to here in the US to bring amazing quality coffee to the community here in the greater Michiana area."

Luten said he wanted to give those making a difference in the community a nice surprise to say thank you as his recognition of Black History Month.

"With us being the first black-owned coffee company in the region, we have decided to give back to our community to commemorate Black History Month," Luten said. "So, we think it would be no crime for us to say thank you to all of our local community heroes with a small simple gesture of giving them all a hot cup of Ethiopian coffee to kick start their day."

Among the places Luten has delivered was Riley High School, which got its surprise on Thursday morning. The staff said the gesture was much appreciated. Principal Shawn Henderson said Luten doing this in honor of Black History Month made the gesture deeply appreciated.

"For him to acknowledge that Black History Month is America is huge," Henderson said. “To recognize those that are of different race and ethnicities, to acknowledge that, that's huge. So, as an African American male, I thank him. If this is his purpose and reasoning for wanting to do that, it's awesome and I thank him for recognizing the history that goes into Black History Month."

Henderson said anytime someone surprises a school with gifts, it's emotionally uplifting.

"Just for people to think about what the schools are going through during this time is amazing," Henderson said. "Our teachers are really going through a lot trying to teach our kids in person, virtually, staying up with assignments, being creative and motivated, motivating students to be on. It's huge when someone recognizes the work our educators are doing and the sacrifice that they're giving."

Luten said his business operates almost entirely through partnerships. He partnered with Jack's Donuts to make the donations possible. He partnered with Violet Sky Chocolate to make the Ethiopian coffee. Hans Westerink owns Violet Sky Chocolate and said partnering with Luten made roasting coffee mean something more.

"To me, it just makes it real to have that," Westerink said. "Instead of just being like 'we're doing this for a business' or 'what business can we do?' it's the mission and the purpose that makes it a lot more meaningful."

Even with his career now centered around coffee, Luten said he's not much of a coffee drinker.

"I wasn't much of a coffee drinker until I ventured to Ethiopia," Luten said. "So, for the last four to five years, I've had the amazing opportunity to travel all over the world to 21 various, different countries interacting with various, different cultures, heritages and peoples and trying to figure out 'what is that common thread? What connects people on a very fundamental basis?' One common denominator that I found everywhere I went in the world was coffee."

Luten said he is proud to be a leader in recognizing Black History Month in Michiana. He also said he plans to continue to make "coffee with compassion" while working with Violet Sky Chocolate after it moves to a new location at 1215 East Mishawaka Avenue.

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