It’s about Others!
Brad McCurtain’s goal was to make $1 million before age 35. The Portland, Maine, stockbroker reached that goal a year early, but it didn’t bring him fulfillment.
“For a lot of people, money becomes addictive,” McCurtain said. “The more they get, the more they want. For me, that wasn’t the case. I kind of felt like a sailboat with no wind, with the sail kind of flopping back and forth because I hadn’t set another goal.”
The newly–minted millionaire didn’t know it at the time, but his life was about to change. McCurtain would watch political shows on Sunday morning television. One day, and without really thinking about it, he stuck around to watch Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power.”
“He always seemed to have these incredible guests on there—CEOs of corporations and athletes. The common denominator was people’s faith,” McCurtain said.
McCurtain had already been a member of The Salvation Army’s advisory board in Portland for 15 years, but he had never heard the story of Founder William Booth’s “Others” telegram.
That morning, Schuller’s guest was then–General Eva Burrows. She told how Booth, on Christmas Eve in 1910, sent a telegram to The Salvation Army’s annual convention. Short on funds, Booth sent a message with only one word, Others.
“Hearing that story just transformed my life,” McCurtain said. “I said, ‘Wow!’ I started thinking about things from the inside out instead of me, me, me. It really got me thinking about materialism.”
Today, McCurtain owns and operates the popular Others! café in the heart of downtown Portland, the go–to place for coffee and gelato. Over the years, he has donated the proceeds from the café to various charities.
“I’ve given it all away,” McCurtain said. “It’s more of a mission than it is anything else.”
McCurtain made his money running Maine Securities Corporation, a securities brokerage firm on the second floor of the same building as Others! He opened the café in 2005, but before he gave it a name, he wanted to get the blessing of his friends Commissioners Carol and Todd Bassett, who were then the national leaders of The Salvation Army.
The perfect name
“I told them I really wanted to focus on what a business could do for good—not on how much it could earn. The name ‘Others’ seemed so appropriate,” McCurtain said.
Todd Bassett’s response was that he was retiring soon to nearby Old Orchard Beach, Maine, and might come in and help McCurtain scoop gelato. The Bassetts loved the name “Others,” so it stuck.
Each day, a steady stream of customers file into the cozy café, which features comfortable chairs and plenty of SAconnects magazines for people to read as they sip coffee.
Each customer helps McCurtain pick a charity through something he calls “Ballots to Change the World.”
“You can nominate your favorite non profit and at the end of each quarter, whoever is the most popular, that’s where we send checks,” he said. “We’re a low–profit, Limited Liability Company. You can make a profit, but it has to be secondary to doing some good. What Others! has earned in profits over the years, I have given away.”
Some of the recent winners were organizations dedicated to health, youth, and the immigrant community. The sign outside the café reads: “Others! Changing the world through coffee … one cup at a time.”
Top to bottom
McCurtain, who declined to say how much he has given away over the years, can often be found working in the café—and sometimes behind the counter. When asked why he does it, McCurtain has a quick answer.
“There’s only one answer to what gives me the heart to do this and that’s God,” McCurtain says. “I’m trying to glorify God. I’m very fortunate. God has blessed me richly.
“What I have, I owe to God. There’s absolutely no question about it. God and my faith in Jesus Christ are what have gotten me to where I am today.”
Even as a kid, McCurtain had a fascination with wealth. He got out of banking at age 24 and into stock brokerage. However, twice in his life he went from being a millionaire to having a “negative net worth.”
“It was because when I met that goal of making a million dollars, my motivation to keep earning money kind of went away,” he said. “I don’t really know how I would have gotten through the low points without my faith.”
McCurtain’s passion these days is trying to develop a fair trade, Salvation Army–brand coffee. Since 2009, he has traveled at his own expense to the coffee lands in Central America and Africa to learn more about fair trade coffee, which he serves at Others!
“This fair trade business is wonderful,” McCurtain said. “It’s just people working hard, but they’re raising a commodity and the price of that commodity is beyond their control.
“All we’re doing with fair trade is agreeing to pay a fair price for the work that they do. What we’re agreeing to do is pay a fair price for the coffee to the growers.”
McCurtain has met with coffee growers and processors in Kenya and believes developing a fair trade, organic coffee with The Salvation Army brand would help everyone.
“That has become my mission and what keeps me up at night, in a good sense, and gets me out of bed in the morning—thinking about the wonderful Africans and how well they treat me as a friend and guest and how I can help them. For many of them, I’m the only friend they have in the Western world.” McCurtain said.
Not a quitter
While the road has been frustrating with a host of complex issues, he remains optimistic.
“I haven’t given up,” McCurtain said. “My goal is to someday see free trade, organic, Salvation Army coffee. I know this project has taken a long time, but I haven’t lost my faith in it.
“Hopefully, The Salvation Army will be able to sell it someday and people will be interested in buying it because it’s great coffee with The Salvation Army brand that stands for something, and people will know and value that coffee.”
Since 1979, McCurtain has learned those values while serving on the advisory board in Portland. His grandfather, Christian Olesen, Jr., had been on the advisory board before him.
“If I wasn’t on the advisory board, I’m not sure what my life would be like,” McCurtain said. “The Salvation Army is my family.”
McCurtain, who is single and never married, has lost his parents and most of his family. He had spent the last several holidays with a fellow advisory member, Stephen Woodberry, who died last year.
Several years before joining his advisory board friend, McCurtain would cook at the Portland Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“There are always one or two people at the ARC who are by themselves,” he said. “What I like to do is find the people who are alone, sit with them, and see if I can engage them in conversation. You hear some pretty interesting stories.”
McCurtain has hired several ARC grads to work at the café. He also has another unique hiring practice.
“In my 12 years here, everybody I’ve hired has come to me unemployed,” he said. “I’ve never hired anyone who already had a job and was looking for a new one. A lot of the people I’ve hired have come from recovery or are single moms. I try to find people to employ who are struggling in life.”
For several years, McCurtain opened Others! on Christmas morning—and offered everything for free. He is trying to get another Christmas dinner going at the Portland Corps.
“I would come in on Christmas mornings to cook for the ARC and I would see people outside on the benches by themselves. I didn’t think anyone should be alone on Christmas Day,” McCurtain said.
When people come to the counter to pay, McCurtain responds simply, “Merry Christmas.”
“It’s kind of an interesting way to spread the Christmas message,” McCurtain said. “Sometimes you can reach people for God and Jesus by being subtle.”
The man who once set a goal of making $1 million now gives away $1–million dollar bills to his customers. They’re actually tracts from a local church, but they are eye–catching.
McCurtain said of the tracts, “They probably generate more attention than anything we have in here. It’s amazing how many people read them and take them home.
“This is my mission. I don’t know that I want to keep operating this coffeehouse forever, but I like doing it now, and I like the people coming in. When there’s an opportunity to say ‘God bless,’ I do. In the future, I hope to spend more time in the coffeelands and working for fair trade coffee.”
McCurtain gets up at 5:30 a.m. and rides the bus most days so he can get work done during the hour–long commute.
“I’m here because I want to be here,” he said. “I don’t know how many more years God will give me. None of us do. But with a normal life expectancy, I should have another 20 years or so. Those years are really dedicated to working with The Salvation Army on this free trade coffee.
“That’s really why I feel God has put me here.”
by Robert Mitchell