Fight crime while caffeinated at Criminal Coffee Co.
Crime and coffee.
In fact, the latter is the basis for the aptly named Criminal Coffee Co, a Cumberland-based company that offers premium coffee for true crime enthusiasts.
Another natural couple. Co-owners of the company:
Big Brother fans will recognize Providence-born Derrick Levasor as the winner of the show’s sixteenth season, but the reality star already had quite the resume before appearing on the show in 2014. Levasseur joined the Central Falls Police Department in his twenties and served as an officer for more than a decade, including four years undercover as a detective before being promoted to sergeant.
Once he won the show, however, other doors began to open.
“I had some networks interested in working with me in the true crime space, and I ended up signing with Discovery ID. I did a six-part OJ Simpson special with them, and that led to my own spin-off show called Breaking Homicide,” he explains. “After getting out of the Central Falls bubble and having the opportunity to travel the world on business, I decided to open my own private investigation firm and retire. [from the force] in 2017.”
“Breaking Homicide” aired for two seasons from 2018 to 2019 before the pandemic, as it was known, derailed the plans.
“Then COVID hit and there was this big transition. everyone was into YouTube and podcasting,” Levasseur recalls. “Discovery came to me and said: “Hey, what do you think about doing a true crime podcast?” I said I was open to it, and we started looking for a co-writer.”
Enter Stephanie Harlow, a popular True Crime YouTuber with almost 800,000 subscribers. A New York native, she has long had a passion for mystery and the macabre, stemming from a deep dive into her older brother’s collection of John Grisham, Anne Rice, and Stephen King novels at the age of nine. However, her interests didn’t collide with her career until adulthood, when after the birth of her third child in 2018, Harlow made the decision to work from home. She considered several different options before creating a YouTube channel centered around makeup and skin care.
“I did it for about a year, but I was getting bored,” Harlow says. “How much can one talk about lipstick? I felt like I wasn’t doing anything productive or creatively stimulating.”
She switched things up and started posting true-crime-based videos here and there, realizing that if no one liked them, she’d just continue with her beauty content. To his surprise, the videos turned out well.
“And this was long before anyone was doing ‘makeup and murder’ on YouTube. I’ve never done that. I kept it separate because I felt it was a bit disrespectful to wear makeup when you’re talking about killing someone, especially if they still have living family members,” Harlow explains. “But then I did a video about Madeleine McCann, a little girl who disappeared in 2007, and it just hit the algorithm and blew up. Suddenly people weren’t watching my skincare and makeup videos anymore because they were there for the real crime.”
Five years later, he regularly produces in-depth, long-form videos discussing both new and old cases. In fact, his extensive research and analysis of topics is what piqued Levasseur’s interest in the hunt for his podcast partner.
“I felt like a lot of the YouTubers I watched sensationalized things, and it wasn’t me,” he says. “But then I got to Stephanie, and I was immediately attracted to her videos because she told them in a way that they were in the form of a story, but it was respectful. I was also like “this girl must have some experience in CSI or intelligence work” because she was so thorough. I knew I wanted to work with him.”
And so he did what most people do these days, hoping to connect with someone new. she went into his DMs.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Harlow admits. “But my older daughter, who helps me manage my messages, was a fan and said, “He’s a really good guy, the best Big Brother player ever, you’ve got to answer him.”
“Yeah, Nev saved me on that one,” Levasseur says with a laugh.
The two called that night and immediately hit it off, partly because of their shared passion and partly, Harlow notes, because of their shared zodiac sign of Aquarius. Levasseur told producers he had found his co-host, and the pair initially signed on to host the audio-only Crime Weekly podcast under Discovery’s name. After about a year, however, they amicably parted ways with the network to expand the brand to YouTube.
“I took Crime Weekly under my LLC, and now Stephanie and I own 100% of it,” says Levasseur. “We’ve been releasing episodes every week in both audio and video for about two years now. We’ve reached about 18 million audio listens and we just passed 22 million views on YouTube.”
The episodes, which are often multiplexed, mostly cover unsolved cases and last between an hour and a half to two hours. Discussing such tough topics so often and at length, however, gave the presenters an up-close look at the impact these crimes of injustice have not only on the victims, but also on their families who need answers.
“Unfortunately, the main barrier to entry is often money,” says Levasseur. “There are so many undiagnosed cases that are solely due to the lack of DNA testing found. Right now there are hundreds of thousands of rape kits sitting in evidence cabinets that just need to be tested to bring justice to these victims. And it’s an absolute crime, no pun intended, that the only reason they don’t get exposed is because they don’t have the money to do the testing. It’s expensive.”
While he and Harlow regularly donate to victims’ fundraising campaigns and encourage their listeners to do the same, they wanted to make a bigger impact.
“Honestly, it’s hard to get people to open their wallets ‘just because,'” Levasseur explains. “They use true crime content every week, but they don’t always give it back. So we said: “Okay, how can we give someone a tangible product so that they get something, but we’re also going for a bigger cause?”
Both caffeine addicts, the two hosts were well aware of the hold coffee has on most podcast listeners. And so Levasseur, who also has a business degree, reached out to Providence-based New Harvest Coffee Roasters to see if they would be interested in partnering.
“If you’ve ever had New Harvest, you know their coffee is phenomenal,” says Levasseur. “[Owner Rik Kleinfeldt] had a few different stir-fries that she wasn’t using, so Stephanie came down from New York, we did a taste test and settled on three. Now they roast, salt and bag them for us right at home.”
Criminal Coffee’s flagship offerings include a light Colombian Undercover Roast; medium Costa Rican Rogue Roast; and the dark Guatemalan and Colombian Alias Blend. Each roast has its own Criminal Coffee Universe character, as illustrated by a mega-talented graphic designer from Austria, as well as a QR code that leads to their respective stories and current magazine entries (written by Harlow himself) on the company’s website.
“Every month we update the stories of these characters in this fictional true crime universe, so it gives the drinker something to kind of occupy their mind while they drink their coffee,” Levasseur adds.
All in the name of reinforcing the crime-fighting mission of Criminal Coffee. For every bag of coffee sold, the company allocates a portion of the proceeds to donate to the victims’ families and/or surrounding communities and organizations in need of financial assistance. According to the website, about $8,000 has been collected and donated to date.
“We’re trying to give people an opportunity where they’re getting really high-quality coffee, while also serving a great cause, and they can track the site to see where their money is going,” says Levasseur. “Just two months ago, we donated $5,000 to Preble Penny, an unsolved case from Ohio involving a woman believed to have been murdered. They didn’t have money for testing, so we paid for it, and now we’re just hoping to get some results.”
And the hope is to be able to do a lot more, but that of course requires getting the word out.
Having been on social media, Levasseur and Harlow knew that gifting coffee to their peers and other popular connections with large followings are standard these days when it comes to reaching larger audiences. Harlow, however, had the brilliant idea to take things a step further with the usual Mission Boxes. Fortunately, another Rhode Island company, J&R Marketing, was more than up to the task. Branding and marketing agency Smithfield not only helped create the boxes and subsequently distribute them, but also provided the various elements included inside. In addition to three Criminal Coffee roasters, a grinder and a pair of color-changing mugs embossed with the company’s logo, the boxes will also contain a personalized letter addressed to the recipients.
“It basically says: “We need your help to find this character who has been lurking around the Criminal Coffee universe, pick up the Alias Blend to find the next clue,” Levasseur explains. “Under the coffee, they will find a black light pen and writing. It will instruct them to find a hidden message with a pen that will say, lift up a corner of the box, and underneath they will find a T-shirt from our product line.”
Picking up the shirt (also J&R’s handiwork) will then lead to the ultimate reveal; personal image of the recipient as a character in the criminal coffee universe.
The thirty-seven custom boxes officially shipped in the second week of March, and stock has already arrived, featuring influencers like Cody Calafiore, Kendall Rae, Ashley Flowers (of Crime Junkie), Shia Dunne, Rachel Shannon, and more. their joy at finding their likeness (follow @drinkcriminalcoffee on Instagram to see who else is having fun).
And Levasor and Harlow have more in store to keep the momentum going.
“We’ll also be introducing K-cups soon, which is a whole other market that we haven’t touched yet,” he says. Events [we can help]. We would love to be in a position to donate to a cause once a month. That’s the goal.”
If you’re interested in helping them achieve that goal and trying the coffee for yourself (this writer can personally attest that it’s fantastic), visit kriminalcoffeeco.com. (Please note: The Cumberland location is for distribution only and does not have coffee for purchase.) You can also follow Levasseur and Harlowe on the Crime Weekly podcast, available on YouTube, Apple, On Spotify, IHeartRadio and Google. .