San Rafael’s Equator Coffees & Teas owners named U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year

Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell, owners of Equator Coffee


The owners of Equator Coffees & Teas in San Rafael today were named national Small Business Persons of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the first time it has done so with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) owners.

Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell, partners in business and in life, were recognized during the National Small Business Week awards event in Washington, D.C.

Today, of the U.S. Small Business Administration recognized and awarded this year’s National Small Business Week national award winners including the Small Business Person(s) of the Year at a ceremony and reception in Washington, D.C. The weeklong recognition of small businesses, which the administration says provide two out of every three U.S. jobs, runs from May 1–7.

“It all started in 1995 when they started to roast coffee in Brooke’s garage,” said Maria Contreras-Sweet, SBA administrator. “Equator now has 90 employees and 350 wholesale customers including the renowned French Laundry restaurant, cafes at LinkedIn, microkitchens at Google and three retail stores in Northern California with two more on the way. Helen and Brooke purchased their own roasting plant using an SBA 504 loan. They have worked diligently with their farmers for 17 years and were one of the first roasters to support the Fair Trade movement to gain better wages for growers.”

The SBA named McDonnell and Russell California’s Small Business Persons of the Year in March, putting them in the running for the national awards. It was the first time the 63-year-old administration had given such an award to LGBT owners.

U.S. presidents have declared an annual National Small Business Week since 1963. Events are planned in Washington, D.C., New York, Denver, Phoenix, Oakland and San Jose and are being live-streamed (, hashtag #DreamSmallBiz).

The first runner up for national Small Business Person of the Year was Angela O’Byrne, president of design and construction services firm Perez, APC, in New Orleans. Second runner up was Raymond Jardine Jr., chairman and CEO of Native Hawaiian Veterans, LLC, in Honolulu. Third runner up was David Dafoe, founder and chief operations officer of Flavorman and Distilled Spirts Epicenter in Louisville, Ky.

National Small Business Week 2016 sponsors include Chase for Business, SCORE, ADP, Colonial Life, Intuit, Sam’ s Club, Square, YP, ESET, Facebook, Instagram, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders and VEDC.