Coffee for a cause

Melanee Grondahl

PHOTO BY tom gascoyne

Two years ago, Melanee Grondahl was diagnosed with a progressive, terminal lung disease called Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). Because it’s so rare—there are 30,000-50,000 people in the U.S. who have it—there was little information out there to help her understand her disease. She quit her education technology job in the Bay Area and moved to Magalia—she was born and raised in Paradise and graduated from Chico State. She’s just launched a “cause-brewing” effort to develop a Paradise-based business called Feather Coffee, a mobile coffee shop that will give a percentage of its profits to rare-disease organizations. She will brew coffee from Three Avocados, a nonprofit that gives its earnings to water projects in Uganda and education projects in Nicaragua. If successful, she will develop the business into a franchise with mobile Feather Coffee shops operating in other communities also donating parts of their profits to rare-disease organizations.

How do you feel?

It’s a complicated diagnosis. It was two years ago and it’s had no progression since then. So that’s fabulous. And I feel much better than I did even 10 or 14 days ago. Each week it gets easier for me. A week ago today I had all of my tests done and it showed no progression. So I feel good.

What gave you the idea of creating a mobile coffee business?

I’ve always wanted to have a coffee shop and I love all of the coffee shops in Chico. I was just at Naked Lounge yesterday and the most fabulous thing happened. I was standing in line and the barista said, “Today your mocha is a dollar.” And I was like “What?” And then the lady behind me said, “And I’ll pay for it.” There is this synergy I find in coffee shops. I’ve had my best conversations over a cup of coffee. It opens up this relaxed way to talk to somebody. It’s hard to talk about rare diseases. It’s hard to talk about a diagnosis like mine. But in a relaxed state and this type of business, I thought this would be a great way to have these conversations

How goes your effort to start the business?

I’ve raised more than $2,000 in two weeks via a crowdfunding site called I would need between $25,000 and $30,000 to buy a used coffee trailer with all the equipment. I’ve gathered quite a healthy social media following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I also have a website, I’ve collected more than $4,500 in perk prizes for my Indigogo crowdfunding campaign. I reached out to independent artists from More than 100 donated handmade items as perk prizes for the campaign. In April I went to Pacific Union College and shared my campaign with the fundraising and social media classes. Now I’m working with two groups of students who are helping with my campaign as part of a class project.

How will it work?

I plan to start small with one trailer and go to weekend events. Eventually, I would like to have a place where I can park the trailer throughout the week—I need a space if anyone out there is interested in donating one. Once the business model is solid and profitable, I would like to seek investors and franchise the model.