For Equator Coffees, This Year’s Pride Celebration Is Personal

The queer-owned company is marking the decade anniversary of its pivot to retail with a month of activities culminating this weekend.


Photos courtesy of Equator Coffees

Ten years ago, Equator Coffees made a big change.

The roasting company started in 1995 by Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell was a Northern California institution at that point, but its business was almost entirely wholesale. In 2013, though, Equator got the opportunity to open a café at Proof Lab Station in Mill Valley, Calif. The company made the leap to retail, and now 10 years later, Equator Coffees operates nine cafés in California.

“When it opened in 2013, Proof Lab launched the second generation of Equator,” says Helen Russell, co-founder and executive chair of Equator Coffees, in a press release. Adds Devorah Freudiger, director of coffee culture at Equator, “A 10-year anniversary is a big milestone for any café, but this is a 10-year anniversary of the new phase and chapter of our business. It fundamentally changed who we are.”

Two women hug for a photo, one drinking from a black paper coffee cup and wearing a heart shaped pride flag necklace.
Helen Russell (left) and Brooke McDonnell founded Equator Coffees in 1995.

This month, Equator Coffees will celebrate Pride with a series of events at its Proof Lab café, honoring both the milestone anniversary of its business pivot and the company’s LGBTQ+ roots. Like many coffee companies, Equator doesn’t save its LGBTQ+ identity for each Pride Month in June, but it sees the yearly occasion as a time for celebration. “We do things for the queer community all year, we are queer-owned, it’s so important to us,” says Devorah. “But there needs to be a Pride Month, too—a time where queer people are visible, they’re active, and it’s shining a spotlight on all the recent injustices happening to the queer community.”

Artist Collaborations

Equator Coffees at Proof Lab has spent the last decade as a community hub in Mill Valley—a thriving place for runners, surfers, cyclists, families, professionals, and others. Among the activities Equator is holding this month is a collaboration with artist Fisher Monahan, who created an illustration of all four Equator locations in and around Marin, with Proof Lab front and center. The design is available on a 12-ounce mug, an enamel pin, and a sticker at the four locations.

A person in a plain black shirt wears a pride rainbow pin shaped like a tiger.
The limited-edition Pride Tiger Pin from Equator will help raise money for the LGBT Asylum Project.

Equator is also currently offering its springtime seasonal Super Bloom Blend, with a tiger-forward illustration from queer artist Rymie on the bag and on a tumbler. “We do an artist collaboration quarterly for our seasonal blend, and since this one was going to be during Pride, we definitely wanted to feature a queer artist,” says Devorah.

A Colorful Sig Drink and a Group Ride 

Also at Proof Lab for Pride, Equator will offer a limited-time Celebration Cake Latte; it will only be on the menu this Thursday-Sunday, June 22 through June 25, for the location’s anniversary weekend. Devorah says that while Equator is typically inventive and artisan-minded with its signature drinks, the Celebration Cake Latte is strictly fun-focused.

An Equator paper cup with a latte featuring rainbow milk swirls and round rainbow sprinkles on top.
Equator’s Celebration Cake Latte is birthday cake flavored and will be available June 22-25.

“‘Rainbow and 10-year-old’s birthday party’ were the inspiration,” she says. “It’s a birthday cake-flavored syrup with rainbow milk and rainbow sprinkles. It is so outside of anything we’ve ever done before, but it’s just goofy and fun. I think our customers are going to love it.”

Finally, Equator will commemorate Pride Month with the Tour d’Equator: Pride Ride, in partnership with Mike’s Bikes, on Sunday, June 25. The free ride will see riders climb from Proof Lab to the top of Mount Tamalpais and back down to Equator’s Sausalito location, where they’ll celebrate with free paninis and drinks. “We didn’t know that the cycling community would be so important to us and such a part of our cafés,” Devorah says. “As soon as we opened, they embraced our space; it’s great to see our cafés used to kick off and wrap up rides.”

Tour d’Equator participants are also invited to join Equator in donating to support the work of the LGBT Asylum Project; funds will be combined with those raised by Equator’s monthly Cup for a Cause ($1 per pourover sold in cafes) and a limited-edition Pride Tiger Pin (available online and in Equator’s cafés).

Devorah pours a latte behind the bar at Equator.
Devorah Freudiger is the director of coffee culture at Equator.

A Month with Meaning

Equator has established itself as one of the leading roasters in the U.S., with a reputation for offering high-quality fair trade and organic coffees, and having become a certified B Corporation. Now 10 years after opening the Proof Lab café, Equator has clearly pivoted into the retail market; its cafés are sprinkled throughout the Bay Area, and the company is scheduled to open its second Los Angeles café, in the Fairfax District, later this month.

“Retail is now solidly more than a third of our company,” Devorah says. “We’re close to 200 employees now, and three-quarters of them are in retail. And our cafés are designed to be spots that are so open and so welcoming to the queer community. We create cafés where everyone feels supported and protected and empowered.”

Devorah adds that while supporting the queer community is baked into Equator’s DNA, it’s more important than ever now with the political situation in the U.S. “Legislation targeting trans people is just a start; attacks on the queer community will not end there,” she says. “It’s a scary time; it’s important to talk about Pride now and be loud with support.” 

The cover of the June + July 2023 issue of Barista Magazine featuring Martin Shabaya of Kenya.


Out now: It’s the June + July 2023 issue of Barista Magazine featuring Martin Shabaya of Kenya on the cover. Read it for free with our digital edition. Get your Barista Magazine delivered; start a subscription today! Visit our online store to renew your subscription or order back issues.

About Chris Ryan 263 Articles
Chris Ryan (he/him) is Barista Magazine's online copy editor and a freelance writer and editor with a background in the specialty coffee industry. He has been content director of Sustainable Harvest and the editor of Fresh Cup Magazine.