Coffee entrepreneur John Krause can relate to the slim employment prospects most ex-cons face upon parole. As a former San Quentin inmate himself, Krause spent over a decade in and out of prison before opening Big House Beans (BHB).
Based in Antioch, BHB’s production facility now roasts thousands of pounds of premium gourmet coffee beans per month—supplying restaurants, coffee shops, and tech companies throughout California. But Krause’s business plan goes far beyond simply turning a profit.
“I really want to embrace the community to create more jobs and include people with barriers,” Krause recently told San Quentin News. “I’m not ashamed to use my company as a platform to tell my story.”
Krause remembers being homeless and fearful after he was released with $5 and a BART ticket in his pocket.
“I was afraid that I wouldn’t find something quick enough and would slip through the cracks for the umpteenth time,” Krause said in a 2015 East Bay Times interview.
During his last stint behind bars, Krause became a counselor for San Quentin’s Substance Abuse Program and attributes SAP for causing a pivotal change in his own mentality. Krause wants to continue paying forward the profound benefits he’s gained through rehabilitation and community support.
“I don’t want to shun people in society who everybody else is shunning,” Krause told KTVU FOX2 News. “I want to embrace them and continue to love them until they learn how to love themselves.”
Welcomed into Danville’s Community Presbyterian Church, Krause was given job opportunities and the encouragement to pursue his own business ventures. With the help of the church’s support network, he was able to gather investors and secure loans, refurbishing a $35,000 coffee roaster as the springboard for BHB’.
“I hope my testimony will encourage people who are where I once was or have family members where I once was—struggling with addiction, in and out of prison, and on the verge of losing hope.”
Krause’s mission and his company’s goal is to not only provide superbly roasted coffees, but to offer second-chance opportunities to ex-offenders and other men and women struggling to find sustainable work. BHB additionally raises money for job training and supports community rehabilitation programs.
Krause just expanded BHB’to include a new flagship café in Brentwood.
“I jumped in with not a lot of coffee or retail experience,” he admitted. “So I took a step back to revamp my marketing and branding before refocusing on how and when to serve the community best.”
“John’s a blessing to work for,” said Big House employee and ex-offender Juan Valdez (and yes, that is his actual name). “It’s a good job and finally I get to do something I really love to do.
“You know if you have the look, like you’ve been in prison, it makes it definitely worse,” Valdez said about his own facial tattoos and prison ink to ABC7 News. “It also makes it hard when you have to do a background check just to find a place to live.”
Not every attempt by Krause to embrace a troubled employee ends in success. He told San Quentin News about one recovering addict who had worked reliably for weeks before suddenly failing to ever show up again.
“The phenomenon of that craving for a drug is so powerful,” Krause explained. “One of the hardest things about trying to really help people is that some people aren’t ready.”
“I went to San Quentin for the first time for a high-speed chase, evading police… I was definitely under the influence,” he recalled. “I remember each time I got out from prison, I swore that was the last time, but then I’d be back on drugs within days.
“Now I look back and my heart is broken for the immense levels of ignorance and brokenness in people in prison, most of whom have been abused, neglected, or abandoned.”
—Claire Gelbart, UC Berkeley student, contributed to this story