Eric LeGrand is a former defensive tackle for Rutgers University. In October 2010, he became paralyzed in-game while making a tackle, but has since regained movement in his shoulders and sensation throughout his body. LeGrand is undoubtedly a fighter and during his recovery said “it’s not even whether you keep breathing, it’s whether you keep breathing how you want to breathe.” In 2012, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed LeGrand to a symbolic contract as an undrafted free agent by his former Rutgers head coach, Greg Schiano, who has recently taken the helm in Tampa Bay. Since his injury, LeGrand has begun writing and speaking about his experiences highlighting a never say die attitude and teaching people to persevere even when the chances are slim. His novels The Victorious Story of Eric LeGrand (Young Readers’ Edition) and Believe: My Faith and the Tackle That Changed My Life, Eric tells the story of how he is rebuilding his life, continuing his education, and pursuing a career in sports broadcasting.
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. This is a super, super-duper special edition because we’re so honored to have with us today, a fellow New Jersey native, Eric LeGrand. Welcome to the Impact podcast, Eric.
Eric LeGrand: Hey, John, thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.
John: Eric, you grew up at a part that I’m really familiar with – Woodbridge, New Jersey. I want you to share your fascinating youth and growing up in New Jersey, your love for football, what happened along the way, and how you even got here today.
Eric: Growing up in Woodbridge, New Jersey in a small town called Avenel. I grew up in a very diverse area, a mixture of a bit of everything here and I grew up seeing different religions, backgrounds, skin colors, everything has been here. We’re big in the sports and I love to say how my generation probably was the last generation that played outside from sun up until sundown, going to the park every day, like that’s how I grew up with whatever sport it was at the time. Football season, we played football. Basketball season, we played basketball. Baseball season, we played baseball, and build bike jumps and ramps, and stuff like that. That’s how I grew up, and I started playing, kill a man with the ball on the side of my house when I was four or five years old. Every now and then I would juke past the guy who’s holding us, Charlie, who’s five years older, and I will score a touchdown and that started my love for football. So crazy playing. Kill the man with the ball on the side of my house.
John: Wow. Now, you grew up, you were a Giants’ fan or Jets’ fan growing up?
Eric: I got a surprise for you. I’m actually a diehard Denver Broncos fan.
John: You’re a diehard Denver, you grew up–
Eric: You know why?
John: Tell me why.
Eric: When I was a kid, I was about seven or eight years old. I’m watching a game one day and I’m watching a Broncos and I played running back. Guess who the running back was, Terrell Davis.
John: Terrell. TD. TD.
Eric: I’m watching TD. I’m watching TD and I’m like, “Oh, I like this guy. I will follow this team from now on.” And now happened to be the year that they, well, I’m the one told in the Super Bowl, and here I got my “You know what? I’m following this team.” Here I am now. Jeez. Twenty-two years later, still a diehard Denver Broncos fan.
John: Well, that’s a great team, and they’ve had a great run, and I remember some of the greatest games and TD was one of my favorites as well.
Eric: I love that guy.
John: Where did you go to high school and when did you start playing organized football then?
Eric: I just started playing organized football when I was five years old. I played for the port running saints. I played flag football for my first two years at five and six years old. I went through the whole Mitey-Mite’s Junior Pee Wees, PeeWees, and then made its way to get up to the top and had to lose weight to be able to play because I was growing bigger, and bigger and bigger. And I got to high school, I went to Colonia High School which is where the kids in Avenel, that’s the part of the high school we go to, a part of town that we go to. I was able to receive a full scholarship after playing three games of varsity during my freshman year at Rutgers University and that’s when my recruitment took off and it was a journey since then.
John: You played at Columbia High School. You go to Rutgers, share–
Eric: Colonia. They’ll get mad at me because everyone always says Columbia, they’re like, “Eric, you got to tell people it’s Colonia, not Columbia.”
John: Oh, it’s Colonia. Okay. Sorry.
Eric: It’s alright.
John: You went to Colonia and you go to Rutgers. Were you one of the Blue Chips? Was it easy for you to make the team at Rutgers? How did that go?
Eric: When I first got there, I was recruited to play one position, middle linebacker and they actually moved me to defensive tackle nose guard, where I was 230 pounds and usually, people on my position – 290, 300 plus pounds – and I was in a whirl. I actually thought I lost the lovely game of football in my freshman year because I got moved to nose guard, then our second-string defensive man got hurt, I moved to the defensive end. Middle of the year our fullback dude isn’t producing, I get moved to offense on fullback. Then back to defensive end after two weeks, and then back to nose guard, and I was all up in the air. I’m like, “Why am I doing this? What is the plan here? Do I love the game of football anymore?” I actually had a meeting with Coach Schiano, who was my coach, and I said, “Coach, what’s going on here?” He said, “Listen, Eric, I trusted you to get a job done in each one of those roles. I would never put you out there if I didn’t think that you can get the job done. You’re going to learn along this journey – love is sacrifice. Sometimes, you got to sacrifice for the things that you love and you realize sometimes your plan isn’t always the best plan and you have to trust in us to guide you in that right direction.” That changed my whole perspective on the way I looked at it after that.
John: That’s such a great perspective, Eric. Isn’t that like when people say coaching doesn’t matter when you hear the backstories like that, coaching matters more than almost anything, right?
Eric: It sure does because I’m in the moment, I’m just sitting there, thinking in my head, “What is going on here?” And then, I go up there have a meeting with him and he tells me, “I would not have put you out there if I didn’t trust you to get the job done.” I’m sitting there and like, “Woah, this one’s totally different than what I was expecting.” He could have thrown anybody out there, but he trusted me in every single one of those roles to get the job done.
John: It’s tremendous. That’s just tremendous. Now, you’re playing on it. Now, you move to your next year, your sophomore year, was that the year that the tragic event happened?
Eric: That was actually my junior. When I’m in my sophomore year, I woke up to 260. “Oh my God. Coach might have been right here.” I actually start fitting in as I’m growing. I’m eighteen years old turning nineteen. Like, actually, the coach might have been right here. I’m gaining weight, getting stronger, not getting faster, things of that nature and I had a great season. We went to a ball game that year. We played in a, I believe it was a Saint Petersburg ball down in Tampa vs. UCF. The year before that, we were in a Papa John’s Ball versus Russell Wilson and NC State at the time. Those go really well for me. I had a great career and then the junior year comes and my injury, midway through the season.
John: Walk us through what happened. For people that don’t know your story, talk about that day, in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium.
Eric: We play that MetLife Stadium versus the Army Black Knights. The stadium had just opened up the year before so you’re playing in a brand new NFL stadium at The Meadowlands. As you know, John, from Jersey, that’s a big thing here.
John: That’s a big deal.
Eric: For a college program because it’s a dream where you want to get to. See, in front of everybody there. It’s a national TV game and we had just tied a game up 17 to 17 in the fourth quarter with five minutes left. I’m on the kickoff, I’m running down the field. I was facing the double team that game, which means two guys came to block me. On that particular kickoff, I was able to split right through them and had a good thirty, forty yards headstart down and Michael Brown was going to make the tackle on. I said to myself, “Do I want to use my head, or do I want to use my shoulder because this is going to be a big collision.” I said, “You know what? Let me use my shoulder and keep my head out of it because it’s going to be a big play.”
Eric: A teammate got down there about a half a second before I did and he dove at Malcolm’s legs. He tripped him up and when he tripped him up his body twirled in the air. I put my head down thinking it wasn’t going to be the tackle at all. The crown of my head goes right into the back of his shoulder blade and the next thing you know I’m lying on the ground motionless. The last thing I felt was my heels hitting the ground after my body went stiff.
John: You had a C3, C4 injury in your spinal cord.
Eric: I remember the Traders come out to me, “Eric, is it your head or your neck?” At the time I said, “I can’t breathe.” They go, “Can you feel this? Can you feel that?” I said, “I can’t breathe.” Coach Schiano comes out down and looks at me and he goes, “E, you have to start praying right now.” Honestly, John, when you said that to me, I’m like, “I can’t move. I can’t breathe. I think my life is over right now.” My coach is telling me to pray. I started praying [inaudible] but they’re all this stuff, but at one point, I said, “God just take me at ease.” As nothing happened, I went back to panicking and they lift me up onto the board. I want to give a thumbs up to the crowd and nothing happened. I’m on my way to the hospital just thinking I’ll have a full-body scan and I was going to be okay. I come to find out they told my mom that night, “Your son has fractured C3, C4 vertebrae. He’ll be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life. He’ll never walk again. Never breathe on his own. Never eat solid food. We’re hoping he’s strong enough to make it through the surgery.”
John: Wow. Did you have brothers and sisters?
Eric: My other sister was right there on the field with my mom at the time. It’s funny for that game. It’s a funny story. We were allowed four tickets for our allotment for each home game. Usually, when the kids are from Florida or PA or out-of-state, their parents aren’t coming so you use their tickets. That game I had twenty-five tickets so I had my mom, dad, aunts, uncles, the local pizzeria, Rocco’s Family Table. I had my neighbors or my coach from when I was in Pop Warner. Literally, I had twenty-five people there to see my last game ever. Crazy to think about that but my mom was absolutely devastated when she heard the news. They let me see her before I went into surgery and I remember, I guess the adrenaline had to be flowing still, it had to be, and I said, “Mom, I’ll be back.” Just like that. She heard that and everything changed. She said, “From here on out, whoever sees him or goes in his room, you have to have a positive attitude because he’s fighting already. You, guys, have to be fighting with him as well.”
John: So, you make it through the surgery, what happens after that? How does it go?
Eric: It was great. Just the outpouring of support is honestly what got me. Head Coach Tom Coughlin was the head coach of the Giants at the time, he comes by to see me says, “Overall the rookies like Jason, Pierre, and Paul at that time, and all the rookies came by.” From there Andy Reid, down the turnpike in Philadelphia at the time, comes up in his Hawaiian shirt sees me. I’m getting all pumped up. I’m like, “Once I get better, I will be a first-round pick. They know my name now.”
All this and other people I haven’t seen in years. I’m talking about elementary school, middle school days coming out of the woodwork. And then random people from all over the world are sending me messages. It was just uplifting and inspiring. It kind of made me, to my head, I’ve always been the type of person – if you’re looking to me for something or relying on me, I have to get the job done. That’s my responsibility. When I saw all of this happiness and you know what? It’s my job to get the job done here even though I had dark times, I was scared, and I was nervous but I always stay focused. This is my job now to inspire people and get yourself better because so many people are looking up to you.
John: Talk about how the rehab has gone. What they said you could and couldn’t do in the beginning and how you’ve pushed all the limits and move the goalposts right down the field here. Explain to our listeners and viewers how that goes in. For our listeners and viewers who just joined us, this is a super special edition of the Impact podcast. We’ve got Eric Legrand, he’s the CEO of the LeGrand Coffee House which we’re going to talk about in a little while. To find Eric and his mission, go to ericlegrand52.com. And, of course, to buy his great coffee, go to legrandecoffeehouse.com as well. Eric, take it from there, where did you start and how have you push the goalposts down the field now.
Eric: So, it actually started five weeks into my injury after they told me I’ll never breathe on my own, I was on a ventilator. I still have the scar to tell the story but I remember one night being at Kessler in West Orange, New Jersey, I was in laying in my bed and I was like, I can’t fall asleep, it’s uncomfortable and the noise from the machine, I just can’t sleep. So, I asked my respiratory therapist, “Can you please take me off this ventilator so I could just have some peace and quiet and fall asleep?” She goes, “Eric, if I take it off, you’re only going to last about a minute so I have to put it back on.” I said, “Good, give me that minute and I’ll fall asleep.” As she takes it off, and I’m not going to lie to you, John, I feel like I just got done running the New York City marathon. I was trying to breathe but I was breathing on my own and she was at, “Whoa. Whoa. What’s going on here?” An hour and a half later, I was still breathing on my own that night. Then she put me back on from there. Two weeks later, fully dependent on breathing on my own. I got hurt on October 16th, they told me I never eat solid foods again. That Thanksgiving I was able to eat full celery. My family got the feeding tube taken out of me few weeks before and the best part was I had a Super Bowl party that February 2011 after they told me I would never move anything from my neck down, I was in a Super Bowl party I wasn’t on one like this. My shoulder had started moving a little bit. It was rocking around, even shimmy shaking and all that. So, things have come back for me over the years and I just still continue to work my butt off to keep myself healthy and strong for the day that we find a cure for paralysis. And that’s why I build my foundation and so many things, not letting this disability hold me back from doing things that I want to do in this world. Until that day, I can go back to MetLife Stadium and lay down on that 25-yard line and get back up and finish that last play.
John: I love it. So, you really, right here on this planet Earth, experienced miracles already with your breathing, with your solid food eating, with moving your shoulders and your body, you’ve done things that the doctors just said we’re never going to happen. You’re a miracle, man.
Eric: I’m thankful to God and it made me get a new appreciation for life because I don’t focus on the things that I can’t do. I focus on the things that I can do and if it’s something that I really want in my life, I work my butt off to get it and I attribute that to obviously my stubbornness and I have my faith and also being an athlete and having that athlete’s mindset of being able to attack something, set a goal. It may not happen tomorrow or being able to work towards that work ’cause in the world where everyone wants instant gratification right now, I have kind of built old school where I’m willing to work and put in the time that it needs to be until I get there.
John: And you’re working with, explain to our audience, Eric, what you’re doing with your foundation, with the Reeves Foundation. How’s that work and the progress you’re making towards recovery on one day being able to get up and walk again?
Eric: Well, you want to hear a story that I think you would appreciate, John. So when I got hurt there, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, well, they start pushing me from day one. They’re supportive and got to me whatever I needed. So, finally, probably, at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 people were asking me, “Eric how can we help? What can we do? How can we still support you?” And I was like, “Mom, I think it’s time to find these, you know, form a foundation. And let’s get into helping find a cure for paralysis.” And I remember like, “Mom the Reeve Foundation, they’ve been there since day one. Now, why don’t we have a meeting with them?” She was, “That’ll be awesome.” I remember, I said, “Mom, who’s Christopher and Dana Reeve?” She goes, “Are you kidding me?” I’m like, “Am I supposed to know?” She was, “You don’t know who Christopher Reeve is, the original Superman in the 70s and 80s.” I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, ma, you know I was born in 1990, right?” And she was like, “You’re killing me right now, son.”
After that, I did my research and I was like, “Whoa, I probably should know who that is but we formed Team Legrand of Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which launched in the fall of 2013. I am proud to say, since our inception, we have raised over two million dollars for spinal cord injury research. We have our big event that we have coming up. Our 11th Annual Walk to Believe on June 12th, that’s just going to be absolutely amazing and it’s a 5k that’s taking place worldwide. Wherever you are, you can participate. So, I’m very excited to see how we continue to raise funds.
John: Two million dollars.
Eric: Yeah, but most importantly raise awareness for people with disabilities.
John: Before we get talking about you as an entrepreneur, talk about raising awareness with people with disabilities. The numbers that I’ve read when I was preparing for this interview, somewhere, like, 61 million people in America that have disabilities, is that close to reality, Eric?
Eric: Yeah, it truly is with some sort of disability, whether it’s a spina bifida, ALS, whatever type of disabilities, amputees, there’s some sort of disability. And I feel like a lot of times people get uncomfortable when they see somebody different, and I was taught a valuable lesson when I was at Rutgers by our coach Schiano, Coach Schiano always just says, “You got to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Things aren’t always easy. They’re not always going to be black and white for you. You got to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” And here I am now, someone who has lived his life in a wheelchair for ten and a half years, I understand that and I accept it. I try to educate people, “Yes, I may look different than you right now or move differently than you, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not a human being, that I don’t have feelings or needs.” And I try to always educate people on being genuine, ask questions. Don’t look at somebody, they look at you and then you turn your head or you walk away or you just try to avoid them or you just sit there and stare at them because you don’t know what to say. Ask questions, don’t be shy but the most important part about is – be genuine about it. Don’t be rude. Try to see if there’s some handicap because you know what? You may have a conversation with somebody that looks different or has some sort of disability that may change your life forever. You never know where a conversation may lead.
John: So, well said, and there’s so much to that. I mean, the 61 million people also obviously include as you said, people that are paralyzed, deaf people, people that are missing limbs or blind, and somehow, there’s some of like you said, they’re pushed aside and become invisible and just your issue and Coach Schiano’s thought process and what you just said, you have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, that’s a life lesson that all of us have to absorb and actually practice more and more. But when it comes to disabled people, why have we been so, like you said, shame on us for being uncomfortable just because we all don’t look like each other or act like each other or have the same skills as each other. We don’t also love one another and respect what the other one brings to the table.
Eric: It’s unfortunate to see it. I remember when Coach was saying that to me at the time, after doing 22 sprints after a two-hour practice, I didn’t care what he was saying about comfortable being uncomfortable but now, as I get older, it really sets now, I see what he was trying to teach us in life. That’s what happens. And then when it comes to the disability world, unfortunately, that does happen a lot of times. People are afraid to ask questions or they don’t want to upset somebody or they don’t want to be rude. Such a lack of the same thing, but I feel like we need to normalize more having those conversations, bring them to the table and I love, actually, what people are doing now with the diversity and inclusion. Big corporations are having organizations with DNI now, where people are involved, and you see people with disabilities, yes, I may not be able to physically do stuff, but I still have my mind. I’m still sharp, and we bring a lot to the table. And I’m so thankful to see now more inclusion and diversity into this world.
John: Inclusion and diversity. And the timing for your message, Eric, is somewhat perfect. For lack of better terms of being perfect. As you know, and I know, I grew up also in a very integrated part of New York and New Jersey and we were all one people, the child of the 60s, and the late 60s and early 70s, and my heroes growing up were Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and people like that so I didn’t know any better, but it’s still shocking to me that we’re living in 2020 and 2021 and we’re still having issues about people’s ethnicities, religious beliefs, colors, sex, male, female or in between, and like you said, we’re all people and we all have something to offer that has value, it doesn’t matter. Any of that stuff doesn’t matter. But inclusivity and diversion are so important now than ever before, I think. And young people like you get to actually be beacons of hope. Beacons of hope, which we’re in desperate need of. But correct me if I’m wrong, I know the Reeves have done so much and you’re doing so much on these issues, wasn’t this also an issue that was champion for years by the late great Nick Buoniconti, and the Buoniconti Foundation and what they did, in memory of his son’s accidents as well, similar accident, as well.
Eric: Yes, down in the Miami project and down to South Florida. Yeah, spinal cord injury research, Nick Buoniconti and I think Buoniconti Foundation is starting up their own research and trying to also find that cure, which is amazing to see, especially people like me who live in a wheelchair, 5.6 million people with some sort of paralysis, honestly, we don’t care who finds the cure first. The Reeve Foundation, the Buoniconti Foundation–
John: It doesn’t matter.
Eric: It doesn’t matter to us. We want, like Christopher Reeve said, “A world of empty wheelchairs.” And to see so much light now being shined on that and continuing as technology continues to grow every day, I’m just so thankful for it. Elon Musk was talking about putting chips in people’s brains to help people with paralysis – just crazy ideas that are coming out nowadays, but soon these crazy ideas are going to be possibilities for people.
John: How close are we? Tell our listeners of yours. I’m so interested. Is this something that’s going to happen in your lifetime? Is it even possible to happen in my lifetime? Even though I’m much older than you. What do you foresee here?
Eric: Actually, the Reeve Foundation is working right now with a big push on epidural stimulation where they’re literally putting up an implant and I want to say, like a machine, but like a little tiny machine into the lower part of your spinal cord. And, literally, you turn it on with a button, and you practice movements, and people are starting to move, stand up with a walker, take steps and regaining back bladder function, sexual function, sensation throughout their body, or bowel function, all this stuff by this machine. And even when they turn it off, the body is still continuing to be able to use this and it’s like retraining the brain on how to work maybe in a different way. But it’s insane to see the progress and that’s why I’m hopeful for the future.
John: How far, Eric? This is fascinating. How far are we from you getting to beta test this stuff and see how it works on you, how far?
Eric: I don’t know, it’s got to be in the next few years. I would think they’re out there, obviously, they started with lower-level injuries first, people that have a little bit more function in their upper body and they’re starting to work your way up to people that, when it comes to me, with a neck injury, with a spinal cord injury, they’re starting to test people now with the lower levels. So it’s cool to see people that I know that are in these research studies that are not too far down like I’m a C3, C4 but someone else is C5, C6 now getting tested and trying these methods.
John: That is fascinating, you just explained that really well. So, they’re going to move their way up, C5, C6 will get tested first, then they’ll move up there at the spinal cord, and then you’ll be next up to bat.
Eric: Yeah, like things of that nature, as you keep on getting the results and the testing, more and more people with this level of injuries, there are more and more data in there, more research that you have that you could apply to that next level. So, it’s pretty cool to see.
John: Wait a second. So, how often do you go to rehab and rehabilitation yourself?
Eric: Well, before COVID, I was going twice a week. At one point, I was three times a week and at one point, I was five times a week. But as I started getting older, I start having more things that you need to do and responsibilities in life. But before Covid, I was going twice a week, but I’m blessed that I have the equipment here at my home. When COVID hit, I was able to do pretty much 95% of the same rehab at my house that I’ll be doing up at Kessler, outpatient, in West Orange. I have my mom and my nursing aide turned into my physical therapist, occupational therapist for the past one year or so.
John: What’s your mom’s first name?
Eric: Karen. My mom is on all the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes down at the rehab sessions, all the medications, insurance, she runs it all and I’m so thankful for my mom because without her and her unconditional love, geez, I don’t know where I’d be.
John: Your mom’s one of those angels that have been put on this earth, huh?
Eric: She’s a special woman. We may butthead 75 times a day because you know how that is. You’re a 30-year-old son and you’re a mother, we’re going head-to-head at each other. And five minutes later, we’re back to whatever it is that used to be.
John: You’re back to everything’s all good.
Eric: I’m so appreciative of her.
John: I’m going to tell you a story. I’m so glad you told me Coach Schiano’s words where you have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable because you said it better than I could say it. But you and I had a chance, we got introduced because of our friends at Engage. And so I’m going to tell you a little story about disabled people and this is going to lead into your next venture – the coffee stuff, and you becoming an entrepreneur. So, I’m going to talk to you. So, I’m a serial entrepreneur. And, Eric, I have a business called ERI. It’s a recycling company. So, every year we host a dinner where we like to give an award to the board member who’s done the most that year. So, I had to hire a speaker for that board dinner. So, I saw this young kid in September, four years ago, in September of 2017. Blind, the first blind NCAA Division One football player, make his long staff, Jake Olson. So, I got in contact with him and I go meet with him in the mess hall over at USC with him with his partner, his roommate, Daniel Hennis. And I’m sitting there and I hired him that night to come to speak at my annual board dinner. But I had that same type of thought process that you just explained better than I could ever explain it, Eric.
I was sitting there and thinking, I was 54 at the time, and I was dressed the way you see me today. And I was thinking when I was looking at all these wonderful, good-looking kids in the chow hall, all who had their normal functions and everything else what we know is normal. I was thinking to myself, “What’s this kid going to do when he gets out of this college and the cocoon of college and football and everything else?” And I said to him, “What are you going to do when you get out of here?” And he told me what his goals and his dreams were around Engage, and I was shocked when I was thinking to myself of the math of my life, “How could I be 54 years old and I didn’t have one friend, not one, who is disabled? Blind, deaf, in a wheelchair, it didn’t make sense to me. And as you said, I think you said it best. I think it’s just that we’re all scared of the potential of all of us potentially being disabled one day because we don’t know God’s plan anyway. And so we just avoid the realities that exist around us by ignoring folks that are disabled or don’t look like us and what I started thinking about right at that moment is, “Why not Jake? Why does every CEO or leader or founder of a tech company have to look like Zuckerberg or Bezos or Gates, or any one of these wonderful tech people who have done really well for themselves? Why can’t the next person on Bloomberg or CNBC or Wall Street Journal be blind or deaf or in a wheelchair and be a beacon of hope for all these other disabled people out there that think they’re being shut out of the American dream?”
And so, when I had the opportunity to meet you today, and have you on the Impact, I’m like, oh, my gosh, Eric is not only someone I tremendously respect and I’ve followed your story since the tragedy that happened at MetLife, but now the fact that you’ve decided you’re going to become and besides raising millions of dollars, to make empty wheelchairs in the future, which I believe is going to happen because of great people like you and the Reeves and Nick Buoniconti and so many others. I believe that it’s time to also be focusing and putting a spotlight on the entrepreneurs that look like you too, that want to be part of the American dream of capitalism and entrepreneurship.
Eric: Absolutely. I appreciate that story, actually, so much, John, and the way that you just expressed that obviously touched my heart, because as you said, you go to meet with Jake, and then all of a sudden you leave, you’re like, “Wow, I can’t believe I don’t have a friend really that looks like him. But now I do and it’s opened my eyes up to a whole new world and it makes you start thinking differently.” And the same with me when I was stuck in my little bubble at Rutgers, as you said, that cocoon around college, once you get out of there, and now I do look different. It just exposed me to so much more. Even one of my times when an inpatient for five months, I got to them like, wow, there is a life outside of here where people are going through so much. And as I said, I’m not going to let this hold me back. And that’s how I create, obviously, besides my speaking career and speaking engagements, I launched now Legrand Coffeehouse where I have my own unique twist to it that I’m going with our brand now. I’m just so thankful. As I said, I’m like, you know what? I got great people around me. I have the ability I have my mind, I’m going to execute this and make this happen. I’m not going to let anything hold me back.
John: When did you come up with the concept? What was your inspiration? And how’s it been going since you launched?
Eric: I have actually a very funny way I came up with the concept because there was a typical millennial now, group text messages, pictures, and stuff, sent group messages of my friends from my hometown, sending their cups of coffee all last summer, and are every day, “Oh, I got this today.” “Oh, I got that today.” “I drink my coffee black.” “Oh, you’re putting too much milk,” every single day all summer long. So your opportunity presented itself in my downtown area, where they’re building these new apartment units with six retail spaces at the bottom. And I’ve never been a big coffee drinker, but I like cafes. You put me in a cafe and I’m enjoying myself. So, I said, you know what? Why not have my own cafe? But if I’m going to have my own cafe, especially with coffee, I want to try it. I got to try it. I tried my first cup of coffee in August of 2020 and I said, “Whoa, what have I been missing out on? This stuff is good. And it led me to like, you know what, Eric, if you want to make this a business plan, you got to do it the right way.” I hired a business advisor from Bellissimo, advisors in Portland, I got started learning about coffee, taking classes, doing all these different things to educate myself, and get myself prepared for our brick and mortar that’s going to be open up in September. But I said you know what, I want to bring my brand national. I want to put my own spin on everything that’s been going on in the world, I want to show, we want to bring unity to the community with a daily cup of belief. That’s our motto. And I launched our online store on January 12. And for four and a half months in the business, I’m proud to say we have sold to all 50 states so far. And business has been great. Work stadium deals. Working on the wholesale side has been amazing because you know what? I wanted something that people want and need every day.
Yes, a T-shirt is great for people wearing a T-shirt, and I put it in the washer, wherever it may be every few weeks. Coffee? People need coffee every day. So, I’m giving them that daily reminder of bringing unity to the community with a daily cup of belief and be the absolute best you can be, and attacking your goals every single day.
John: I want to ask you some more questions about that. For those who just joined us. This is a super special edition of the Impact podcast. We’ve got Eric Legrand. He’s the CEO of the Legrand Coffeehouse, but more important, he’s a beacon of hope for those who are disabled, who want to create empty wheelchairs around the world, raised over $2 million with the Reeves Foundation. And you can find Eric at ericlegrand52.com, and at legrandcoffeehouse.com. Eric, talk about the beginning. Besides getting educated and bring on these great specialists to help you learn, how did you write a business plan and raise the money and put together the whole thing to make this not only an online store reality but also make the bricks and mortar reality as well.
Eric: So, after hiring Bellissimo coffee advisors, they helped me go through a whole business plan. They’ve been doing this for 25 plus years. So, they know what it all entails when it comes to writing up a business plan for your coffee shop, you’re giving what you’re trying to build. It’s right next to a train station area. We put it together, we write up our business plan. And I did have some investors coming in that it’s not I needed them, but I wanted them. I did close family and close friends because I need to take care of the people that have been taking care of me for so long as well. And then you get a little bit of a loan to pay for some of this stuff. And boom, as I said in the meantime, I lost our online store. So, we’re going to have direct to consumer to build up some of the profits too I’ll use going forward to build a brick and mortar. So, I started off with the online store, get that going for nine months before we even open up shop for our brick and mortar.
John: Perfect. And the brick and mortar open in September.
Eric: Yep, we’re open there. I’m looking, again, to the beginning of the middle of September right now. You know, obviously, everything happens with construction and that but we’re looking right now September.
John: And tell our listeners and let me ask you the first question anyone asks a new entrepreneur – are you making a profit yet?
Eric: We are making a profit. The only time we weren’t making a profit was probably the first month?
John: The first moth is nothing.
Eric: Exactly. Exactly. We’re already making a profit, we’re seeing green, they’re red at the bank account. It’s going way down. When I’m looking at it, “Geez, when is this going to turn green?” So that has been great, and it’s been like I said, been able to share our message to all 50 states so far without even having our store opened up doing a stadium deal at Rutgers where we’ll be selling coffee for all the ballgames and we got a lot of stuff on the horizon in the future. A lot of plans, believe me. I can’t share them all right now but watch out for the Legrand Coffee, making sure also, you’re getting quality coffee. It’s not just, oh, it’s because of my name. No, you’re getting some of the best stuff that I’m learning about and educate myself on and making sure we’re not just going to give you some bootleg coffee, no, you’re getting some high-end, real deal, top-shelf stuff here.
John: You got, I mean, I’m on your website now and I love, I mean, I want to drink a cup just looking at this. You got Costa Rica coffee, Guatemalan coffee, Sumatra coffee, I mean, these are some of the best parts of the world where coffee can be sourced, right?
Eric: Absolutely. And well, they are all single-origin too so it means they come from one area of that country where they’re not being blended and stuff like that people like to blend their coffee and get a good taste. Well, we’re going to single origins that mean you’re getting the most quality taste of that coffee bean. And, don’t worry, we got some more stuff. Our next roast will be coming out on July 5. Look at that. I didn’t even tell anybody else. You’re getting it here first. July 5th, we got another one. I can’t tell you what it is. But we’re going to be introducing another roast on July 5th.
John: Alright, so I want to know what’s your favorite? When you wake up in the morning, what does your mom drink? What kind of coffee? And what do you drink?
Eric: So, my mom and I, in the beginning, I was so heavy on the Costa Rican. It was the first one I tried. First of all, I sampled that, I said, you know what? I like this a lot. This was my coffee. But then, I started to switch over to the Guatemalan, and I don’t know what has been I guess the more coffee that I’ve been drinking now, the Guatemalan just hits my taste buds a little bit more, it’s got that dark chocolate, there were some of the great fruit tones and I don’t know what it is but I thoroughly enjoyed them. People are like, “How do you drink your coffee? What do you put in it?” And all this stuff and I’m like, “Well, now that I’m a coffee connoisseur, I tried to mix. I drink it black sometimes, mix it with half-and-half sometimes. When I’m feeling froggy, I give it a cold brew. Mix all the fruity stuff, all that good stuff in there, throw it in there, and just enjoy it.”
John: Good for you. How can our viewers and our listeners order coffee from you and support all the great things you’re doing?
Eric: You can go directly to our website, legrandcoffeehouse.com, that’s L-E-G-R-A-N-D coffeehouse.com and try some of our coffee. Like I said, I know I’m the CEO and founder and all this but I would not steer you wrong. Once you’ve tasted, you’re going to be like whoa, this is actually some really good stuff.
John: Okay, legrandcoffeehouse.com, so you have all the coffees available, also do you have that nice little green coffee house t-shirt available also there?
Eric: See, I’m getting all the tidbits. The coffeehouse t-shirts will be dropping on June 15th.
John: June 15. That’s wonderful. What’s the vision? When I have you back on Impact, you’re always invited back here, Eric, whenever you want to promote anything you’re doing obviously. But two, three years now, I have you back on. You’re going to tell me, John, I got these many stores now across the United States. Give me a number, like how many you’re going to have?
Eric: I don’t know. How about we say, let’s go five years, we’ll go with my number from college – 52. Have us all throughout New Jersey then throughout the nation.
John: That makes so much sense. 10 years, very doable. That’s very reasonable.
Eric: I think so. The way that we’re growing right now, I believe so too, as we really get flourishing and things start to hit off and the deals that we’re doing, I think it’s actually doable as well.
John: This is awesome. I’m going to buy some of these. My wife’s a big coffee drinker, I love coffee as well. Can your coffees also be made into an espresso as well?
Eric: Absolutely. You can definitely make it an espresso. We actually get our coffee shops up and running where we can really have all the fun with the lattes, espressos, even throw some we’re going to get work with our Tees as well in there, so smoothies. So, all that. Right now, we have just the online stuff, but I can’t wait to get the store up and running because you know what I’m saying to a lot of my baristas, I’m like, “Listen, guys, this is my first time trying a pumpkin spice latte or a peppermint mocha. So guess what? You got to impress the boss. I got to be happy with it,” so I can’t wait to mess with my baristas, but I hired them and see if they’re up to the challenge.
John: Good. Well, what’s the plan? Once you get it going, will you go down there every day and you’ll be part of that?
Eric: I probably will be there in the early mornings because we got to open up early because of the train station. But, yeah, I’ll be there every day. I got my office in there, that’s going to be built in the stuff. So, I plan on being a part of it and learning as much as I can. I always tell people, “I’m willing to learn. I do not know everything.” This is my first go-around but that’s because I’m absorbing everything like a sponge and writing it down and getting ready. I actually say LCH to the moon when we started.
John: You say it’s by a train station, is it by the Woodbridge station?
Eric: Literally five steps away from the Woodbridge Train Station direct to New York City.
John: Oh, so that’s going to be like you said, you worked with the Bellissimo folks, the experts. So, you got traffic every day coming in and out.
Eric: 232 apartment units going above our retail spot. So, yeah, you know, John.
John: You know what you’re doing here. I got lots of faith in you, Eric. This is going to be, and you know what happens with an entrepreneur. When the first place works well, replicating that, and perfecting that making that the place that you test everything, you replicate that across the country, you’re going to the moon.
Eric: I truly believe that we’ll be making a whole lot of noise in the coffee business the next few years.
John: Well, I think it’s going to be a lot more than the next few years. I wanted to say this, this year, God willing if travel goes back to something sort of normal. I’m definitely going to come out back to my hometown in New Jersey and I’m going to come to visit you at the coffee store itself.
Eric: Come on down.
John: And we’ll sit down again. We’ll sit down again and we’ll do a follow-up to this interview right in person, right on your site itself and you’ll give me a grand tour and we’ll do the whole thing right there.
Eric: We’ll have a perfect wall to set up at the back of the shop for us, John.
John: Man, now, that just made my day. So, I just want all the listeners and viewers out there. I want you to support both what Eric’s doing with the Reeve’s Foundation, raising money to create empty wheelchairs around the world, and get everybody up and out, ericlegrand52.com. Eric Legrand, L-E-G-R-A-N-D 52.com, and then, legrandcoffeehouse.com, L-E-G-R-A-N-D coffeehouse.com. Go buy his coffee, his t-shirts that will drop on June 15, and other products that are coming out in July like he said are coming soon, and then go to the Le Grande Coffeehouse once they open in September in New Jersey, Woodbridge, New Jersey. Support Eric and all the great work that he’s doing.
Eric, I just wish you blessings in every way, man. You are a beacon of hope, not only in terms of disabled people and shining a great light of hope of what the future looks like but also, as an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur that is going to break through and be a beacon of hope, like Jake Olson is for all the people, 61 million people that have been historically ignored, but now we’re going to know that they could also be part of the American dream, just like you’re doing as well.
Eric: Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate this conversation. We got diamonds here so much and I’m so thankful for the time and being able to share my story with everyone listening today. I truly am thankful.
John: Thank you, Eric, for making the impacts you make and making the world a better place. You’re always invited back on the Impact podcast, blessings, and I can’t wait to meet you in person and give you a hug over at your new coffee shop in New Jersey in September.
Eric: That has got to be special, John. I can’t wait to have you out.
John: This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com.