What a Cup of Coffee Can Do

Author: The IDEA Center

Joe Lutan, founder of Impotin' Joe's Ethiopian Coffee

Who would have thought, a beverage could dramatically shape one's life, shifting the trajectory from despair to hope with purpose in tow.

Beverages, cold and hot, have taken Joseph Luten on a global jaunt. Bartending allowed him to experience much of Western Europe, in fact. His stop in Ethiopia? That came from a different place. An insatiable desire, a pursuit for purpose, leading him to the rolling coffee draped hilltops of Ethiopia, relishing in the opportunity to experience its culture and its people.

Captivated by the time capsule that is Ethiopia, Joseph could not help but notice both beauty and struggle. He saw progress yet unfulfilled opportunity and potential. Opportunity to help a community, a community that was innocently living in a world of crippling hunger, anguish and despair. A community of children, the forgotten ones.

“I saw so many children living in the streets fighting to live daily. It was devastating to me and it broke my heart,” Luten says. “I knew kids were suffering, but to see it up close…I couldn’t have imagined it.”

Diving deeper into the heart of Ethiopia, Joseph was introduced to a beverage. Not just any beverage, but something a little more sacred and revered . A beverage steeped in rich history,legend and pride.

But it wasn’t scotch,wine or any of the other drinks he poured for bartending customers.

It was coffee.Known for its rich history of being the cradle of civilization and origin of coffee , Ethiopia has more than a little that it has gifted to the world over.

Unfortunately for us on this side of the pond in America, we haven’t had a taste of what this country can do with the beloved beverage!

“I became completely intoxicated with this new found love for coffee,” Luten says. “In Ethiopia it is sacred, it is revered and honored. It really opened my eyes to what we were missing out in America. It’s so commercialized to me here and what was lost was the communal aspect, the gathering, the love! We really wanted to highlight the beauty, the complexity of Ethiopian culture.”

Today, Luten is the co-owner of Importin’ Joe's Ethiopian Coffee with his wife Afomia where a percentage of profits go to sponsoring children in Ethiopia who are struggling with access to basic necessities such as housing,education, and food ; or are living in difficult conditions. Each varietal of coffee they offer hails from a different region of Ethiopia, with three being offered in regional supermarkets Meijer and Fresh Thyme. They are presently in 180 such stores across 8 states, while managing to open a 4500-square-foot, fully-automated production facility, says Luten.

The majority of their coffee sold has at times been responsible for keeping students awake at night. Studying. Celebrating. Or just enjoying.

Yes, the majority of Importin’ Joe's Ethiopian Coffee is consumed on campus at the University of Notre Dame.

The IDEA Center within Notre Dame has been a tremendous friend to Importin’ Joe’s over the years. Helping to perfect his talents and offering insight on best business practices, to putting in hours of elbow grease helping to get production online, both the Idea Center and Innovation Lab have been integral in the success. Joseph started with a relationship with (IDEA Center Innovation Lab Director) Matt Leevy and that relationship took time.” And, over time, we were adopted into the family. A place we could call home !

It hasn’t been uncommon to see Luten speak at the University, the very one his grandfather, Joseph B. Luten, graduated from.

For Luten, who estimates the Luten family has been rooted in South Bend for roughly 115 years, establishing his business in this city is incredibly important and he wants his company to continue to affect change and be a catalyst for good in the area and beyond. Sell more. Help more. Inspire more.

“There is so much more we can accomplish when we do it together.”