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Kalamazoo Coffee Biz Provides Grounds to Do Good

by Lisa Diggs

When Mark Smutek first got enamored with an old abandoned gas station in Kalamazoo back in the early ‘90s, it’s a safe bet that he never imagined his efforts would someday help support the dreams of young boxers in Detroit, but that is exactly what happened. In conjunction with his company’s 25th anniversary, Water Street Coffee has launched an exciting new initiative to give back to the community in 2018, and Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, is just one of the potential beneficiaries.

“We realize we would not be where we are today without the amazing support of our community,” said owner Mark Smutek. “With Grounds for Giving, we are able to raise awareness of the community organizations we believe in, and give our customers a chance to help support these causes as well.”  

The Grounds for Giving program is geared toward the company's wholesale customers, each of whom are able to choose a community-focused non-profit organization from a list, and at the end of the year, 1% of their wholesale purchases from Water Street will go to that organization. There is no cost to customers to participate in the program. It is more or less a gift with purchase. 

The list has been carefully selected with an eye toward supporting organizations in Kalamazoo, Detroit, and the greater Great Lakes region since Water Street’s wholesale partners are diverse, and span throughout Michigan and beyond.  They range from restaurants like Mabel Gray and Grey Ghost in Detroit to corporations like Stryker and Pfizer to hospitals, offices, markets, and even other coffee shops.  

According to Water Street Director of Operations, Elizabeth Comrie, narrowing down the list of beneficiaries was one of the most challenging parts of launching the program.

“Choosing the recipients was by far the hardest part!  There are so many amazing organizations that are doing such phenomenal things in our communities," said Comrie. “Some of the chosen organizations we selected we have worked with in the past. It has been great to be more closely partnered with them, having seen the work that they do.”

In the case of the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program in Detroit, which also counts Madonna among its largest supporters, Smutek was able to visit in person and learn about the work that they do. Their free, after-school educational program provides tutoring, mentoring, enrichment, college and career readiness, and strong academic support as well as boxing and athletics for children ages 7-18. They proudly boast of a 100% high school graduation rate since the program’s inception in 2007.

The following organizations are currently slated to benefit from Grounds of Giving:

Throughout the year, wholesale partners will be updated on the purchases they’ve made and the donation Water Street Coffee will be making to their organization of choice. Companies interested in learning more about available products and/or participation in this program may contact Frank Saracina (Great Lakes West) via or Michele Unverzagt (Great Lakes East) via 

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