San Mateo business owners promote sense of giving back with products

At San Mateo's Reach and Teach store on 25th Avenue, just about everything for sale has a story.

Shelves are chock-full of educational toys, inspirational books, handmade cards and fair-trade specialty items. A soothing waterfall creates a peaceful ambiance.

Vibrant scarves from Guatemala, for example, benefit impoverished women and children through their sales, while proceeds from gluten-free snack bars help children in need. Other unusual items include wallets from New York made from recycled bicycle tubes,and turtle pull toys from India that are colored with spices instead of paint.

In recognition of the innovative creations that fill their store, Derrick Kikuchi and Craig Wiesner won the Sustainable San Mateo Award this year. With seemingly every item at Reach and Teach having a relation to issues such as sustainable living, world peace or gender equality, some locals call the cozy oasis “a store with heart.”

“We are a peace and social justice learning company dedicated to transforming the world through teachable moments,” Wiesner explained. “The best thing about owning Reach and Teach is watching people's eyes light up when they see something special in our shop. We know that they are getting something unique and that their purchase is making a positive difference in other people's lives.”

San Mateo resident Angel Viloria, who stopped in on a recent rainy day with his 3-year-old daughter, Aeon, was quick to offer his approval. “Reach and Teach is a place where I can get something unique and interesting, with the added benefit of giving back,” he said. “Aeon loves to play in here.”

Wiesner and Kikuchi formerly had lucrative careers in the tech industry. However, a turning point occurred in 2000 during an eye-opening trip to El Salvador, where they listened to the stories of people who had lived through the horrors of war. In 2002, the couple visited Afghanistan.

The following year, Kikuchi and Wiesner were invited to speak at Palo Alto High School's International Day, where they shared the stories of war they had learned. When the day concluded, they recalled, a teenager told Wiesner and Kikuchi, 'I don't know what you two do for a living, but whatever it is, you should stop. This is what you need to be doing – it's how kids like me learn about the world.'

Kikuchi and Wiesner quit their tech jobs, opened Reach and Teach in 2004, and never looked back. They have partnered with community-minded non-profits, including Limitless Horizons and Building for Generations. As members of San Mateo's Thrive Alliance, the duo has strong connections with a wide range of nonprofits and schools.

“Our customers often ask us about volunteering opportunities,” Wiesner noted. “We listen to their concerns and passions, and then we connect them to some of our nonprofit partners.”

Reach and Teach also is a haven for Bay Area writers. From 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month, members of the California Writers Club hold open-mic night inside the store. Up to 10 local writers read published and nearly-published works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The events are free and open to the public.

Looking into the future, Kikuchi and Wiesner say they hope to employ at least five people so that they can spend more time hunting for products that make the world more peaceful, sustainable and inclusive. Part of that vision includes expanding their online business,

“We plan to add more lifestyle products that help people be more mindful about the things they do every single day – from cleaning a kitchen counter to making a cup of coffee to cooking an entire dinner,” Kikuchi noted. “We are dedicated to helping parents, grandparents, teachers and kids realize that they are community leaders who can make a difference in the world.”