Todd Carmichael was a college student when he got a job lugging grain sacks in a Seattle warehouse. He remembers reading the side of the sacks to see where they had come from, noting places like Rwanda and Brazil. The company he was working for? Starbucks, then a little-known coffee startup with three cafés in the city. That was 1982.
A decade later, Carmichael, then almost 30, and his best friend, J.P. Iberti, started their own coffee brand and called it La Colombe. They opened their first café and roaster in Philadelphia in 1993. They traveled to farms in Bolivia and Haiti to source their own beans and learned how to roast them to bring out their finest flavors, making La Colombe the coffee brand of choice for many James Beard Award–winning restaurants and Four Seasons hotels around the world.
Meanwhile, Carmichael was also fulfilling his lifelong habit of long-distance running and trekking. He took a three-month break from work to live and train on a remote island in the South Pacific, and in 2008, he set a new speed record as the first American to solo trek across Antarctica to the South Pole unassisted. He’s known to disappear in Death Valley for days, climb Mount Rainier on a whim, or take his family—he and his wife are parents to four children adopted from Ethiopia—surfing on Oahu’s North Shore.
Today, La Colombe has 34 cafés across the U.S., employs over 900 people, and sells draft lattes (nitrogen-infused cold-brew milk and espresso concoctions) in cans on shelves at grocery stores around the country. Last summer, La Colombe began a yearlong commitment to donate $100,000 to the National Parks Foundation. We spoke to Carmichael shortly after that initiative was announced—and after his first cup of caffeine for the day.