Camper of the Week: Ben Gordon, Co Founder Wandering Bear Coffee Co.

9.25.14 by

Counselors are peppy, happy, energetic people who are “on” 24/7 to make sure your child’s summer is totally amazing, right?! Yes!  But… they need coffee just like the rest of us regular humans.  Ben Gordon is the co-founder of Wandering Bear Coffee Company, and he totally gets our need for a coffee break!  We got to sit down with him (over a cup o’ joe, of course), and chat about how his NYC-based cold brew coffee startup sprouted out of a sense of independence and confidence that he learned at camp.  He is from Huntington Woods, Michigan, which is a small suburb in the Metropolitan Detroit area.  So, like many Michigan kids, Ben went to camp in Canada!  He attended his 8-week sleepaway camp for five years (but wish he’d stayed longer!), and now lives in “the greatest city in the world” New York.

Read on to see how you can get this awesome morning java in your fridge, and to see how Ben used his camp skills to become the entrepreneur he is today!

Wandering Bear CofeeFounders of Wandering Bear; Ben on the right

How has camp influenced what you do / your career path?

Camp played an enormous role in my life. On the personal side, camp is where I grew comfortable in my own skin, which instilled in me a level of confidence that I rely on today in everything I do.

Camp is where I first learned to appreciate the present – I was young but old enough to understand how special it was to only be concerned with what was directly in front of me. I wasn’t concerned about homework or hockey tryouts or cleaning my room – I was concerned with whether I would get up on one waterski that day or what type of cookie would be served for evening snack or navigating the quickest route when sneaking to the girls’ cabin after lights out. Now as a business owner, it is critical to think about and strategically plan for the future, but it’s equally important to focus on and enjoy the present, a practice I learned the value of at camp.

Finally, camp is where I learned to keep an open mind, to push myself, and to always try new things…especially those that scare you. It was at camp that I learned how to ride a horse, how to waterski, how to portage a canoe, how to build a bonfire, and much more. This appreciation for new experience and knowledge partly explains why entrepreneurship is so interesting to me.

What are your top three essentials that you packed in your trunk?

1. CD players + CDs + portable speakers: Music was and continues to be so important in my life, and some of my favorite bands were ones I discovered at camp. I brought binders on binders of CDs…how I envy campers of the iPod generation.  Camp is where I first learned to appreciate the confidence that I rely on today in everything I do.  I grew comfortable in my own skin.

2. Hooded sweatshirts + sweatpants: I wore a full on sweatsuit to breakfast every single day. White Pine is in Northern Ontario and those Canadian mornings are chilly, even in August. By the end of every summer I’d trade all my original sweats with camp friends – they’d get hoodies with University of Michigan logos, and I’d come home with a suitcase full of clothing that had maple leaves on it.

3. Robe: Camp is where I learned the value of a great bathrobe. The showers were a bit of a hike from the cabins, so a solid robe made a big difference. (For those wondering, I still put on a robe every morning after my shower.)

What are three words to describe your camp experience?

Euphoric; rustic; unforgettable.

 Who was someone at camp you looked up to?

There were many people, but the one that stands out now is a counselor I had my 3rd summer there named Cam. He was an  eccentric guy. He taught a group of 13-year-old boys how to write haikus and meditate. He lent me a copy of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” a book which had a profound impact on my perspective then and now. He introduced me to The Tragically Hip, one of the all-time great Canadian bands. The open-mindedness that I mentioned earlier – that mentality was largely influenced by Cam.

summer 365 camp sleepaway teens tours kids children trips experts decisions 2015 advice counselor advisory service camp summer coffee canada michigan cold brew business

Why do you think it is important to go to camp?

To paraphrase my previous answers: to meet new people, to learn new things, to learn about yourself, to grow.

What is your favorite camp memory?

In my last summer at camp, I decided I wanted to go off the grid for a while. So I signed up for a 19-day canoe trip in the pristine wilderness of Algonquin Park. With seven other campers and two staff, I covered hundreds of miles over land and lake. Everything we needed to survive, we carried on our backs. It was a transformative trip.

Summer 365

How has camp affected your adult life? Is there something you learned there that you still do today?

I learned how great it is for your mental health to unplug for a while and go be in nature. As an entrepreneur just starting out, my schedule can get a little hectic and I often forego sleep, exercise, and healthy eating in the name of getting work done. But I still try to make time to turn everything off and go for a walk in the park, a hike along the Hudson, or an adventure to the outer boroughs

Words of wisdom for future and current campers?

Try new things, and be grateful for the opportunity.

Favorite camp tradition:

Color Wars.

Favorite camp food: 

Spaghetti (can’t explain it…but my camp served awesome spaghetti).

Favorite camp cheer: 

There ain’t no flies on us / There ain’t no flies on us / There might be flies on some of you guys / But there ain’t no flies on us.

Favorite summer reading book: 

It’s a tie between Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Catcher in the Rye

Pool or lake: 

Lake! My camp didn’t even have a pool. We had a gorgeous, clean, freezing cold lake.

Sports or arts: 

Sports (only because I was better at sports…huge appreciation for arts though!)

Favorite canteen candy: 

Smartie’s (aka Canadian M&M’s…Canada has all this great candy that you’d never know about unless you spent time there as a child).

smartiesFavorite visiting day item: 

My parents used to stop in Toronto on the way up to visit, and every year I asked them to pick me up a corned beef sandwich from this amazing old-school Jewish deli. Nothing like a slab of salted cured meat on rye to cure any homesickness I might have been feeling.

Favorite camp activity:


Favorite camp word/expression: 

“Why not?” This was a mantra at my camp….probably helped foster that open-mind mentality…

Summer 365 approved

Wandering Bear Coffee Co. produces iced coffee the way it’s meant to be – strong, boldly flavored, and not-at-all bitter. They package in a 12-serving box that is helping them put café-quality iced coffee on tap in refrigerators all over NYC (and soon, beyond).  We are thrilled to have tried this cold-brew in our very own New York City Head Counselor’s Office, and the results are in… Wandering Bear is Summer 365 approved!

summer 365 camp sleepaway teens tours kids children trips experts decisions 2015 advice counselor advisory service camp summer coffee canada michigan cold brew business

Work in NYC? Drop us a line at [email protected] to get Wandering Bear Cold Brew delivered to your office!

Live in NYC? Swing by Murray’s Cheese Shop or Barry’s Bootcamp to grab a box of Wandering Bear!


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