The Green Bean Coffee Company's "Cup of Joe For a Joe" Program has resulted in more than a million cups of coffee being donated to service personnel overseas. One cup in particular, though, has the whole company smiling.
When Whitney Popp and Steven MarcAurele are asked how they first met, the soon-to-be-married couple have two ways they can go with the story.
If they opt for the short version, Whitney and Steven can simply say "over a cup of coffee." The longer version, however, is much, much better.
That's because it wasn't just any cup of coffee.
Two years ago, as part of the San Rafael-based Green Bean Coffee's "Cup of Joe For a Joe" program Whitney bought Steven that cup of coffee from more than 7,000 miles away.
"I had signed up for the program the day before," Steven says, "and the first cup of coffee I got was from (Whitney)."
Steven, an Air Force staff sergeant serving in Afghanistan, responded with a thank you email. Whitney, a former Peace Corps volunteer from Chico, wrote back. A year later the two were engaged. "I had found this amazing woman," Steven says. "I thought he was cute," Whitney shoots back.
No one, it appears, was happier to hear the wedding news than Jason Araghi, the man responsible for the cup of coffee. "I was jumping up and down," Jason says. "How amazing is that?"
Jason, and his brother Jon, originally from Los Gatos, started Green Beans Coffee close to 20 years ago with a single cafe in Saudi Arabia.
American ex-pats and military personnel became regular customers of theirs. Eventually, the US military asked the brothers if they would like to open a coffee shop on an air base in the country.
It turned out to be a good fit and not long after Green Beans began expanding to bases across the Middle East including, after 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I had employees who had to go to work wearing helmets and Kevlar vests," Jason says.
It was in 2009 that, hoping to give something back to the troops who had given them so much business, Jason and Jon started the Cup of Joe program. Anyone, for just $2, could send a random service member overseas a free cup of coffee.
The Cup of Joe For a Joe program allows anyone to send a free cup of coffee to a random service member overseas for just $2
"We wanted to create a bridge from the people in the US, to those serving overseas," Jason says.
They had little idea how successful they would be. Over the five years it has been in place, more than one million cups of coffee have been donated. The value to the soldiers is spelled out in the letters and notes they send back to their benefactors.
Notes, that have sparked more than a few pen pal relationships, friendships, and now, a wedding.