La Colombe Founder Todd Carmichael is a Father, an Adventurer, and a Good Dude


Firebrand entrepreneur Todd Carmichael has four adopted children, a bit of an attitude, and a notion of how to do better than his corporate rivals (cough, Starbucks, cough).

By Joshua David Stein Jul 06 2018, 12:44 PM

odern cities are so cluttered with coffee shops full of tattooed baristas who unsmilingly pour milk into little hearts in little-er cups for four bucks a pop that it can be hard to untangle the chains. What differentiates between the Starbucks from Stumptown from Blue Bottle from La Colombe? These third wave caffeine pushers are difficult to tell apart. That said, their founders aren’t. Or, more precisely, Todd Carmichael isn’t. He’s one of those guys that can’t help but stand out.

Todd Carmichael, the foul-mouthed big-hearted founder of La Colombe as I did on a recent afternoon in New York, and you’ll never be confused again. Carmichael, 54, is an adventurer, an entrepreneur, and a bald-headed Philly guy with strong opinions. He became the first American to trek solo across Antarctica in 2008 and the first guy to can draft lattes in 2016,, which is at least part of the reason La Colombe was recently evaluated at a billion dollars. We spoke on the day every American Starbuck was shut down for sensitivity training. He was making a push for some new flavors of his draft latte in a can — coffee shandy is surprisingly delicious — but, as the father of four children, Yemi, 16, Yordi, 13, Selah, 10, and a lone boy, Bek, 7, adopted from Ethiopia, Carmichael was ready to talk about race. 

Carmichael and his wife, the musician (and anthemist for the Philadelphia Flyers!) Laura Hart are white. Their four children are African-American. “Ethiopian-American,” he corrects me. The family lives in Gladwyne, a very affluent very white suburb of Philly, which has made for interesting interactions. “I’ll be at a party with 30 kids and there’s one black kid. A Dad will say, ‘So which one’s yours?’  and I’ll go, ‘The black one’ And they can’t fucking take that I just said that,” Carmichael laughed. He and his family live in Gladwyne, a well-off, mostly white suburb of Philadelphia. “What am I gonna start with, ‘The one with the blue shirt and fucking sneakers?'”

Carmichael has a contagious laugh and an infectious enthusiasm which fills a room, in this case, the glass-enclosed laboratory at La Colombe’s location on Vandam Street in downtown Manhattan. Dude can hold court, which is what he’s doing for my amusement and to the glee of a dyad of publicists. They’re paid to be charmed. I’m not. Still, I can’t help it. Carmichael has jokes and a dirty mouth and a twinkle in his eye. This magnetism surely is part of the appeal of La Colombe but has also landed Carmichael a gig as a host on The Travel Channel for two shows, Dangerous Grounds and Uncommon Grounds (get it?) on which he trots around the globe doing badass stuff between sips.

Though he’s pretty extroverted, Carmichael also has a loner vibe about him. He’s driven in a way that leaves others behind. He ran his first marathon at age 15. He frequently — until he had a family — fucked off for month’s at a time to pursue adventures from surfing monster waves to climbing freakish peaks. And for years he was a confirmed bachelor. “The kind of things I was up to, theoretically, were very attractive to do. But in practice, it’s not so cool,” he says, “They don’t like it when you disappear for two months and they think you’re dead. Women fucking hate that.”

But fifteen years ago, he met a singer/songwriter Lauren Hart, daughter of famed Philadelphia Flyers announcer, Gene Hart. Carmichael already knew he wanted to adopt and when Lauren unbidden brough it up on their first date, he knew he had found the one.  But he didn’t know he had a daughter until five years later, he says until he was trekking Antarctica.  “I was ten days away from the pole when my wife calls and said, ‘We’re gonna have a daughter.'” It turns out Hart was in Addis at the time and had met 8-year-old Yemi, whose full name means Night Gold. It took a year for Yemi to arrive in the States, during which time Carmichael and Hart assiduously prepared. “To bring home an eight-year-old is tough for you and for them. There’s a lot of anger there,” he explains, “You want to dedicate a year. Fortunately, I had spent a year preparing for one climb so I know how to I’ve up a year of my life and just focus on one thing.” Over the next nine years, Hart and Carmichael have repeated that process three times.


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