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Dear Mama Coffee is Brewing Environmental Change in New York City


Nestled at Columbia University’s business school, Dear Mama Coffee has been a fixture of the local community since its establishment in 2019. Under the leadership of CEO and Founder Zachary Sharaga, the single-location coffee shop is making waves with its commitment to environmental sustainability through thoughtful menu decisions, innovative pricing strategies, and proactive customer engagement.

A Unique Approach: No Upcharge for Non-Dairy Milk

What sets Dear Mama Coffee apart from the typical coffee shop is its pioneering approach to non-dairy milk. Unlike most coffee shops that charge extra for non-dairy options, Dear Mama includes non-dairy milk in all their specialty drinks at no additional cost. Dairy milk is still available, but customers must request it as a substitute.

“We intend to have a positive impact on the environment,” Sharaga explains. “It’s clear that small steps like choosing non-dairy milk and bringing your own mug instead of using a disposable one go a long way in reducing waste, emissions, and environmental harm. We do not up-charge for non-dairy milks, and it is crazy to me that more coffee shops do not do this.”

Balancing Costs and Customer Satisfaction

One might wonder how Dear Mama manages to offer non-dairy milk without the customary surcharge, especially when it costs significantly more than its dairy counterpart. Sharaga’s approach is straightforward: “We simply raise prices across the board,” he shares. This strategy results in a slight increase in the price of dairy-based drinks, but Zachary emphasizes the importance of transparent customer communication.

“When you explain to guests why things cost the way they do, they are typically happy to pay a few more cents for a great product that helps the store stay in business and thrive,” he says. Zachary believes that many coffee shops have a valid reason to raise their prices based on current operating expenses and the cost of goods. He is confident that customers will continue to support a store they believe in, even if drinks cost a bit more.

Encouraging Sustainable Habits

Beyond their innovative pricing strategy, Dear Mama Coffee is also spearheading a “bring your own cup” campaign. This initiative incentivizes customers to save money by using their reusable mugs instead of disposable cups, further reducing waste and promoting sustainable practices. 

Dear Mama Coffee’s success in integrating sustainability into its core business model serves as a case study in how small, strategic changes can lead to significant environmental benefits. By making plant-based milk the default option and encouraging the use of reusable cups, Dear Mama is not only reducing its environmental footprint but also setting a standard for the industry.

Dear Mama’s commitment to its mission and willingness to take risks while fostering deep customer relationships provides a valuable lesson for foodservice operators and menu designers everywhere. Their approach demonstrates the significant role that operators can play in influencing consumer habits and underscores the importance of not being afraid to try new ideas while maintaining a consistent, positive dialogue with customers.

The key takeaway is clear: with thoughtful pricing, transparent communication, and a commitment to environmental stewardship, it’s possible to create a business model that benefits both the planet and the bottom line.