MEET OUR PARTNERS: Helen Russell and Equator Coffee

Jun 29, 2023
MEET OUR PARTNERS: Helen Russell and Equator Coffee

If you’re a cyclist in the Bay Area, chances are you’ve caught a glimpse of Equator Coffee’s Co-founder, Helen Russell, riding the hills in Marin or the streets of San Francisco with pit stops at her company’s iconic cafes. This past weekend, we were able to catch up with Helen on her annual Tour d’Equator ride.

Helen on the ride 

Mixing coffee, community and social causes is part of Equator’s DNA. The company has long been a bellwether when it comes to ethical business practices and corporate responsibility – it was the first roastery in California to offer Fair Trade certified coffee and was also the first in the state to get B Corp certified. Since its inception, Equator has been hyper aware of its footprint and capacity to create positive change. Per Helen, her company “tries to make everything we touch better. Because we believe drinking good coffee leads to good things.” 

There are clear parallels between the origin stories of Helen and Jennifer Maxwell’s companies. In the mid-80s, Jennifer and her future husband Brian founded PowerBar in their Bay area apartment. In the mid-90s, Helen and her life-partner Brooke McDonnell started Equator in their garage. How to succeed when working with a partner? Helen said communication is key for success – that she and Brooke are very good sounding boards for each other. In addition, from the start, they recognized how their skills complemented each other. “I’m a people person and love the networking and selling. Brooke has a passion for the product and great technical expertise. We both recognized that we needed help with organizational processes and financial details, so Maureen McHugh was our first hire (EVP) and still leads those functions. It’s important for entrepreneurs to know that they don’t need to take on every role in their company. We’ve been successful because of our trust and mutual respect for one another’s skills.”

Helen, Jenny and Ali Tetrick
Helen Russell, Jenny Maxwell and pro cyclist Ali Tetrick


The original Equator Cafe, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is located in Mill Valley at the legendary Proof Lab Surf Shop.  Equator now operates nine locations, each of which has a distinctive personality reflecting the local community. No two are alike, since they embed themselves into the local community. The cafe at Proof Lab has a great surf community vibe, while the Larkspur location is cycling themed, with a wood wall map showing local trails. And if you like your brew with a view, you’d be hard pressed (no pun intended) to find a more gorgeous location than the Equator Cafe located in the historic Golden Gate Bridge Round House. What each store has in common, according to Helen, is “an amazingly executed crafted cup of coffee, served with kindness and hospitality, with the promise to honor the coffee farmers.” This weekend’s Tour d’Equator ride began at Equator’s Proof Surf Lab cafe, continued to the top of Mt. Tam, and finished at Equator’s beautiful Sausalito location on the water.

If you’re looking for the perfect drink to pair with each flavor, here’s what Helen recommends: 

  • Chocolate Cha Cha: Shot of Tigerwalk espresso.
  • Musical Mango: Iced Matcha with cold foam - get the strawberry while it’s in season.
  • Jammin’ Jazzleberry: Large cup of black coffee - Equator Blend is best.
  • Malt Nut Melody: Sumatra Queen Ketiara brewed on pour over. 

If you don’t live in California, you can still enjoy Equator’s coffee by shopping online. You can follow the latest news about Helen and Equator on Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin.

View from Equator Coffee
The view from Equator Cafe in the
historic Golden Gate Bridge Round House.