Todd Carmichael, the 54-year-old co-founder of the half-billion-dollar La Colombe coffee empire, is looking to break into the world of politics.
“I looked across the landscape on the progressive side – I think we’ve all experienced this tectonic change the day after the (2016) election. Not just the loss to the candidate; we lost a part of our country,” he says. “When I look around, I simply can’t stay quiet like I used to...I don’t think anyone can live outside of politics anymore.”
Carmichael is hardly a stranger to the limelight, but he has been better known for his high-profile adventuring or his Philadelphia-based company’s draft latte patents. But his role as a political agent is certainly new, and what he is looking to get out of it is still unclear.
Back in January, Carmichael retained political consultant Aren Platt, of Cycle Strategies. He has since been slowly raising his profile in the national news media, scoring headlines for buying coffee for the White House press corps or an op-ed advocating for the $15 minimum wage that went viral. There are even rumors that Carmichael has talked about challenging Toomey in the distant future of 2022 – his op-ed was directly addressed to the Republican senator, who opposes raising the wage.
Carmichael denies that he is interested in running for office and he refers to Platt not as a political consultant but as a “strategic advisor.” But during an interview at La Colombe’s headquarters in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, he freely acknowledged that these were not all coincidences.
“Right now, I’m just saying, ‘I’m supporting everybody on our side of the fence.’” he explained. “The mistake people are going to make is that they are going to say, ‘Todd is running for office.’ But there are people out there who need the assistance of people like me...I’ve already got a lot on my plate. I’m just a support guy.”
Some of those people appear to include some of the highest-profile Democrats in the Commonwealth. Carmichael casually mentions meeting with Larry Krasner, who is the favorite to become Philadelphia’s next district attorney, getting lattes with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and chatting with Gov. Tom Wolf.
“I wanted to tell him he had a friend,” he said of a recent phone call with the governor. “He’s in a difficult spot right now – I don’t know how many people are calling him to say keep going, but I’m doing that.”
Casey didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Wolf’s campaign acknowledged the two men had developed a fast friendship.
“The governor knows Todd and they spoke just recently,” said spokesman Jeff Sheridan. “The governor called Todd to talk to him about his op-ed regarding raising the minimum wage and to discuss the importance of treating your workers fairly.”
Sheridan also noted Wolf’s shared support for wage increases and similar entrepreneurial outlook.
But Carmichael says he’s investing in the political realm for the long haul and alluded to potentially backing upstart candidates in other key swing states, like Michigan. But when it comes to using his sizable personal wealth to, say, start a progressive super PAC, he demurs – “I’m more into backpacks,” he jokes.
He suggests that he would instead use his fame and business reputation as a vehicle to lend more credibility to progressive policies, as a businessman who says he’s voluntarily employed similar policies at his own profitable company. Or as a credible entrepreneurial foil to hard-line conservatives like Toomey who say raising wages and entitlements are doomed to harm the economy.
“I mention Toomey not because I don’t like the guy personally, but because his ideas are backwards,” he says. “There are a lot of people who point to progressives and say, ‘You don’t understand business.’ Well, I do. I will speak up as that business voice.”
Although his name comes up repeatedly, Carmichael insists he isn’t eyeing a run against Toomey – or anyone else, for that matter. The potential political trajectory of his wife, Lauren Hart, a singer who performs the national anthem at all Flyers home games, might be a different story – she too coincidentally authored a well-timed op-ed on NFL protests.
“I would like my wife to run,” he says. “But for me, I can almost say ‘Never’ on that one. It would require something that would never happen. A couple asteroids headed to Earth. The end of time and I was the only guy with a pistol, like in ‘The Walking Dead.’”