Key Figures: Steve Aronson, entrepreneur and philanthropist
Key Figures: Steve Aronson
Steve Aronson is an agro-economist businessman and philanthropist of Jewish origin of American and Costa Rican nationality who has lived in Costa Rica since 1976. He is the founder of the famous Café Britt coffee company, but also of the Espressivo Theater and the Demain Foundation. The latter supports initiatives in Environment, Culture and Education and has been very active in the implementation of the International Baccalaureate in public schools, universal trails in national parks, and theater programs for adolescents at risk.
Steve Aronson’s Café Britt Adventure
Don Steve led Café Britt to international success after facing the severe coffee crisis that affected the industry in the late 1980s. “We all suffered. Granex, the company I worked for, started making huge losses after being the third largest exporter of green coffee. The blow made us sell half of the company to a Swiss company. I sold the warehouses, the mill…”
In the end he had to sell everything. “Many people helped me through the crisis. When we separated from the Swiss partners, they also wanted to recover the money they had lent Café Britt. There was no liquidity and we offered them 70% of the shares. They said no, they wanted their money back. So I bought the debt and I kept Britt. It was from then on that Aronson innovated and raised the company to the success that all Ticos know.
Prior to 1985, it was impossible to find a cup of gourmet quality coffee in Costa Rica. In fact, all premium coffee was exported by law. Don Steve then set about the task of reserving and roasting a portion of the export quality beans so that Costa Ricans could finally taste the coffee for which Costa Rica was known internationally. He also succeeded in getting the government to change the famous law that prevented the consumption of export coffee in the national market.
The recipe for success: access to high quality coffee beans from the best plantations, the best roasting machines, modern packaging that preserves quality and an obsession for flavor.
Café Britt then began selling coffee to the country’s best hotels and restaurants, as well as to Costa Rica’s National Theater. In 1991, Café Britt expanded and moved to Heredia where, again, Don Steve innovated with the inclusion of the “Coffee Tour”, a dramatized guided tour. In 1994, Britt began selling coffee at the Juan Santamaria airport. A golf cart was set up to serve coffee to travelers. Success was not long in coming and the rest is history.
In 2009, Mr. Steve left Café Britt to be managed by his sons. Today Café Britt operates Britt Shops in over thirteen countries and receives over 100,000 visitors per month to its website.
Theatrical and philanthropic adventure
For his part, Steve Aronson, a great lover of the performing arts, decided to dedicate himself to another innovative project: the creation of the Teatro Espressivo de Costa Rica. The programming of this celebrated theater aims to change the image of theater in the country. “In theater, the problem is that we are producing many talented people who do not see a way out and end up working in call centers. We have talent but we don’t have the right audience, nor the way in which this talent can be developed.” Ninety percent of the people Aronson has talked to tell him that theater in Costa Rica is bad. Steve’s intention is to change that mentality. Teatro Espressivo is 20 years old and has more than 107 productions of shows for all types of audiences. Don Steve and his teams have strived to bring theater to non-traditional audiences and venues.
In addition, with the Demain Foundation, Steve Aronson has worked to strengthen the country in areas he is passionate about, such as education, environmental conservation and culture.
“The most important problem that worries me is the breakdown of the social contract, which is the most attractive thing about Costa Rica, isn’t it? The country became more expensive, and we started to have bigger gaps between rich and poor,” says Aronson.
It is for this reason that Steve says he does not plan to retire. He will continue to contribute to Costa Rica, a country that “has given him so much”, as he says. His intention is to give back to the country what it has given him, contributing to strengthen the foundations of the social contract. His dream: that every Costa Rican, regardless of their social origin, can train, develop their skills, exercise the profession of their choice and make a living from what they know how to do.
Author: Marian Li, editor of Sensorial Sunsets in collaboration with Steve Aronson