Daniel Ortega-Pacheco was sitting outside a Beaner’s Coffee shop in East Lansing two years ago when voices from a passing car yelled “Beaner! Beaner!”
Ortega-Pacheco, then an agricultural economics master’s student, didn’t know the word shouted in his direction was a derogatory term originating from “bean-eater,” a slur used against Latin Americans, particularly Mexicans.
“It really caught me by surprise,” said Ortega-Pacheco, who came to East Lansing from Venezuela in 2002. “I didn’t realize until I asked one of my American friends later what they meant by it.”
After increasing complaints from customers about their name mirroring a maligning term, Beaner’s Coffee has announced it will become Biggby Coffee by Jan. 31, 2008.
The orange and black letter “B” used as Beaner’s branding symbol inspired the new name.
“If they’re going to be changing their name, they’re going to have to change everything down to the mugs — that means a lot,” Ortega-Pacheco said. “If there are people out there that feel this name was affecting them, this is an important change.”
Bob Fish, Beaner’s chief executive, co-founded the company 12 years ago in East Lansing. Fish, a 1989 MSU graduate, said he wasn’t aware of the slur when he settled on his company’s original name, based on the coffee bean.
“There is an objective in business to be inclusive and not exclusive,” he said. “Incidentally, our choice of name for this business was exclusive, and it needs to be inclusive.”
The expected $1 million re-branding effort will begin with cups, shirts and other merchandise inside all 77 Beaner’s locations, followed by changes in outdoor store signs.
Fish said it was important to educate his company’s current customer base first.
“We hope that this will start conversations between people about these kinds of words,” he said.
The Beaner’s chain broke out of the Midwest in 2005, with five stores now in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
Fish said the company’s expansion to southern states had nothing to do with the decision to change the company name. Lansing and Grand Rapids, which house eight Beaner’s locations each, have high Hispanic and Latino populations, he said.
According to 2000 U.S. census data, 10 percent of Lansing’s and 13.1 percent of Grand Rapids’ population is Hispanic or Latino.
Ortega-Pacheco called the name change a “sign of respect.” While he said the incident he experienced outside the coffee shop was upsetting, it didn’t affect him in the long-term.
“When you get out of your country and you travel around the world, you’re going to have trouble with rude or ignorant people,” he said.
“I didn’t find East Lansing to be a discriminatory place.”
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