Dear Friends and family,
I hope that this letter finds you all happy and healthy. It’s been such an awesome beginning of the year and the weather has been just incredible. We’ve been riding motorcycles, playing football, riding bicycles, etc. throughout December and January without a coat! In two months or so winter will be over and for us here in KC, it really hasn’t even started.
Happenings It was the busiest Fall since at least the early 90’s. It was an absolute barn-burner and it really hasn’t let up much. We’ll touch on the highlights and move on to the future.
That Vision Thing We’ve been preparing for several months to update our long term strategic plan for the company. Many of you have filled out a survey and we sincerely thank you for your help. If you haven’t had the opportunity to take the survey yet we’d really appreciate your opinion! If you have not yet received one and would like to, please just reply to this letter and we’ll send you one. We’ve made it as easy as possible and we encourage you to be candid and straightforward.
I have the great fortune to serve on the board of Park University and to learn from a great leader, Dr. Michael Droge, our President. He is not only a wonderful person; he’s also an extraordinary leader who has unified all the various constituencies and stakeholders behind him. He is a great listener and one can feel his passion for the students with every activity that he’s involved in. He is leading Park’s long term strategic planning efforts and has set a perfect example for us to follow. In addition to being a dear friend, Michael has been a mentor from whom I continue to learn from each time that I am in his presence.
We had a small fire in the exhaust vent of our 48# roaster this fall. After the initial fear subsided, it was actually a very proud and gratifying event. While no sane person would ever wish for something like this, the outcome was a case study in crisis/emergency management. It was one of the proudest moments of our history; to witness the teamwork and leadership from every teammate was just simply moving. By the time that I arrived at the plant, the team had everything under control and the cleanup had already begun. We lost one batch of beans and replaced the vent but otherwise we didn’t skip a beat and the team was roasting again 90 minutes later. We had a virtual outpouring of concern from the community and the first of many friends to come check on us was Barnett Helzberg. We just stood there drinking coffee together, discussing the teamwork and leadership that we were experiencing. As I said, one would never ‘order up’ a crisis…but it was truly inspiring to watch our team in action to put one down. The KC Fire Dept. Fire Inspector told me that in over 20 years on the job, this was the ‘best managed’ fire that he’d ever seen. And we couldn’t agree more…but now that we’ve done that, we don’t ever need to do it again!
We were honored with an award at Iowa State’s Homecoming week so we took the opportunity to spend several days touring the campus with my family and visiting some of my old professors. It was surreal…to sit on the same benches, in the same desks, talk to the same professors…but this time with our 3 and 6 year olds. It’s hard to describe, almost like watching yourself in a movie. We were on the great expanse of grass on central campus on Friday afternoon when the band marched in and a pep rally assembled for the following day’s football game. Terry played catch with some students and Sophia danced with the cheerleaders. We walked the field the next day and I described all the changes since I had played here so many years ago. It was a beautiful thing and much the same feelings as I get when I go back to my little hometown in Iowa to visit. I feel as though I’m crawling out of a Norman Rockwell painting and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the kind of upbringing that I had. While it is most certainly a different time, my number one goal is to instill in our children the same values that my parents, teachers, nuns, priests, farmers and professors instilled in us. My appreciation for those who invested in us and shaped us grows exponentially over time.
Oh my, to have license to be able to experience this holiday like a kid again is absolutely a treasure! The kids were so excited and each of them had a little program at school. We also host an event at our Brookside Cafe every year and this year we had over 1,500 kids! It was just fabulous and the weather was spectacular. We trick or treated our way home and the kids met every ‘customer’, as Terry called them, with great anticipation. We sat on the front steps and Terry, in his best Napolean Dynomite voice, offered each trick or treater several options to choose from. It was so sweet..and so innocent…and just a beautiful day and night.
The Passing of an Icon
Fred Ball, the creator of the Hen Houses as we know them today, passed away this fall. In addition to being one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life, he was also absolutely instrumental in our early success. Until I met Fred, we had not seriously considered putting our coffee in the grocery stores. Fred challenged me and my philosophy at the time (our coffee was too “special” to be in grocery stores). In his own unique, special way, Fred helped me to realize on my own how I had my head buried at the time; how quickly life was changing, how most households would be two-income and that there would be less and less time for these folks to make yet another stop to find my ‘special’ coffee. It was both a lesson in humility and in customer service, in which he was world-class. This was February of 1994 and he foresaw the hurried lifestyles that were coming; and how we could better serve those folks so crunched for time. This early experience greatly influenced our philosophy of being ‘easy to do business with’. It’s a mantra that we often repeat and we still aspire to deliver on that customer service promise that we learned from Fred: it’s really not about us or how “special” our coffee is. It’s what our coffee…and we…are doing for our customers. Fred was special; I was working by myself at the time, roasting coffee in my basement and didn’t have a dime to my name…didn’t even have a logo on our bags. Yet, Fred took the time to help me and mentor me and in the same spirit as Ewing Kauffman, Henry Bloch and Barnett Helzberg and helped to shape our company in very profound ways. We will miss Fred greatly but his vision is certainly alive and strong in the many, many entrepreneurs that Fred went out of his way to help.
Some years ago I was intrigued by a series of duets that Burt Baccarat had done with other artists. Then Sting, Johnny Cash and Pavarotti also created many super cool pairings of their own. Many of these collaborations were with other artists that you’d never think of putting together (Bing Crosby and David Bowie).
In the late 90’s Michael Smith and Debbie Gold created this really awesome cooking class and featured our coffee in a rub, in a dessert, and of course with our coffee and espresso. It was very successful and really opened the doors…and our minds, to what was to follow. Later came “Up All Nitro” with 75th St. Brewery, combining our Nitro Espresso and their stout. It is seasonal and has developed a cult following.
Shortly thereafter came another very fun and creative collaboration with Christopher Elbow. The chocolate coffee that we created many years ago has an intensely loyal following that I personally hear from often.
Chef Ali Shirazi was one of our first restaurant accounts in the Spring of 1994. He later hooked up with Original Juan’s and has since created two phenomenal products using our coffee; Roasterie BBQ Sauce and Roasterie Rub. It was such a fun process and our team really enjoyed tasting the various iterations. We didn’t think much about it until we started hearing from the marketplace (Original Juan’s distributes it to hundreds of customers); we hadn’t even thought about selling it in our Cafes or factory. But we certainly listened to our customers and had trouble keeping them in stock throughout the holidays.
I was lucky enough to begin a lifelong friendship with Marcel Bollier, owner of Andres, back in January of 1994. In creating his custom espresso blend, we both nearly “OD’d” on caffeine, consuming nearly 20 shots each in not very much time. We later figured out that we could just take a taste and not consume the entire shot. Marcel was one of my first ‘tours’ of the basement coffee roasting operation and taught me so much about quality and processes to ensure quality every time. It was only natural that when his son Rene joined him, that our espresso and their chocolate would find a way to be comingled. Rene used our Gotham Espresso blend to create an out of this world caramel/chocolate combination that I’m sure is addictive. And this fall Andre’s produced our own light & dark chocolate bars with our Super Tuscan Espresso. We do it a little differently so that you can actually hear the crunch of the coffee and taste it…and they are some of the best chocolate bars that I’ve had in my entire life.
Through our dear friend Ernesto Peralta at Blanc, who created one of the world’s best hamburgers using our Super Tuscan Espresso (called Brunch Burger, ask for it when not featured) we met Sean Henry of Soda Vie. In addition to Sean’s passion, we love and admire his creativity. He took 30 of our coffees and created over 60 combinations of his premium soda and root beers with our coffee. They were simply to die for and we immediately put them in our Cafes. We recently purchased a kegerator so that our staff can drink their coffee flavored rootbeer by the keg! We’ll be serving it at our tours as well.
While working at the DeLaSalle fundraiser last year, I was fortunate enough to meet Chad Fordham, a founder of our own local super-premium vodka distiller, Clear 10. Several of our teammates are a little TOO familiar with Chad’s vodka and began discussing a ‘duet’. And they assembled a rather large group of martyrs willing to sacrifice themselves and be part of the tasting parties. As a result of the generous and giving nature of these individuals, they created what we hope to be one of the world’s finest vodkas. Look for it this spring; and if this group has their way, you’ll be sure to hear ALL about it!
We are also inspired by the folks at Sage and Daisy in Crown Center who use our coffee in their delightful and upscale soaps. We have heard from folks from around the country who purchased their products while visiting KC. And one of my favorite chairs of all time was built by the folks at Bee Here Now in Independence. They take our beautiful coffee bags that our coffee arrives in and use them to cover furniture; and they are just astoundingly beautiful.
Finally, our friends at Farm To Market are working on several products that incorporate our coffee and espresso and we’ve also had a line of folks anxious to ‘test’ these savory products. As a child, I loved my mom’s coffee cake…but always thought that it was crazy that there was not any coffee in coffee cake! How jacked up is that!? So, we sure hope to be able to finally put an end to this injustice very soon!
These collaborations have been very fun and rewarding and nourishes our need to create. A friend of mind was asking me about them and the reason behind them and I said it had everything to do with creativity. Dancers want to sing, singers want to dance, actors want to direct, directors want to act, etc. It is from the innovation and creativity where some of the most enduring satisfaction comes from. In the future, I might make a ‘blooper’ list of all the ideas that didn’t make prime time. We have had to decline on some real doozers.
Once again, we began the holiday season with a teambuilding trip to Harvesters to pack food for their Backsnack program. These backpacks filled with food that the children take home over the weekends and holidays are often the only food in their houses. It is a travesty on so many levels that it’s simply hard to get your mind around. But kudos to the KC Star for helping to bring this to the attention of so many folks in our community who can help. Over 15,000 children (more in Johnson County than in Wyandotte County now) are enrolled and of the hundreds of charity, community, philanthropic groups/activities that we get involved with each year, this is absolutely one of our favorites. The thought of a hungry child in our own community is simply heart wrenching. Lots of ways to be involved; see www.harvesters.org.
From The Bean Hunter – Paul Massard
As we enter into the swing of the Central American harvest we are very excited about our new crop offerings. Starting the end of next month we will start to see these coffees start arriving and can’t wait to share them with you. We will again be offering our amazing Don Quijote of Costa Rica, our Limonar Estate of Guatemala, our Mexican Altura from the mountains of Chiapas and our Panama Luna De Oro. We are also excited to be adding to the mix a beautiful coffee from Honduras, which is full of sweet ripe fruit notes as well as a nice and unique roasted vegetal note which this coffee will be known for. As I write this we are preparing for our annual trip to Costa Rica to visit the farms and mills from which our Don Quijote, La Candelilla, Pea berry, Las Lajas Honey process and our Aprocetu Natural come from. This preparation takes me back to one of my first origin trips and where my love for coffee grew stronger than I could have ever imagined. On this trip our goal is to strengthen current relationships as well as start to build new ones with great farmers so that we can continue to bring you the best coffee on this planet.
Our newest offering is currently my personal favorite. It is an Auction Lot Kenya Pea berry we acquired from our friends at Royal Coffee California, this coffee’s profile is what you dream of when you dream of Kenyan coffee. I hope I’m not the only one who dreams about coffee. It has that great phosphoric, champagne like acidity that all great Kenyan coffees are known for as well as the most intense cherry notes that I have ever encountered. At one point during the initial tasting, (when I fell in love with it) it was like drinking dark cherry juice. That cherry fruit note transforms into a sweet pear like note that stays on your pallet for what seems like eternity. We again, like all of our reserve coffees, only have 200 pounds of this coffee, so I would suggest that you get some before it’s gone.
While talking about our reserve coffees, we have unfortunately sold out of our Honduran Cup of Excellence offering, but luckily we still have a few pounds of our El Salvador Cup of Excellence in stock and for sale. If you have not tried a Cup of Excellence offering, you are definitely missing out. These offerings showcase the best coffees that are coming out of these countries. The El Salvador comes from Finca Andalucia and is a mix of Pacamara and Borbon varietals which make this coffee’s flavor profile very unique. The Pacamara Varietal is known for its distinctive nut and wood notes which really round out this coffee and make it a treat to drink from beginning to end.
As I start my travels this year, be on the lookout for our amazing finds, which you will be alerted about on my weekly blog. My weekly blog is can be found on our website, as well as our Twitter and Facebook pages.
I’ve started many more books than I’ve finished this quarter but there are two in particular that I’d like to point out. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. It is inspiring, depressing, incredibly interesting and offers all kinds of lessons in how one might go about building a company, creating a product or living life in general; or perhaps how not to. Each of us will no doubt take away different learnings but it is a great read and there is a great deal that one can learn from this book. Another great read this quarter was Postville by Stephen G. Bloom. It is about a clash of cultures in small town Iowa and is an absolute page-turner from beginning to end. I highly recommend this book, even if you’re not from a small town in Iowa…or New York City :).
Many of you have contacted me about my trip to Zappo’s and what we are working on here at The Roasterie. It has been a really rewarding experience and I’m reminded of an old saying “If you will just get out of the way.” As is almost always the case, everyone wants to do a good job; everyone wants a great place to work; and in my heart of hearts, I think nearly every person on earth wants to be happy. And as I often say to our team, while no one can make someone happy, we can certainly inform the conditions from which happiness can arise. That is, we can do a lot to create a working environment that is fun and rewarding and can lead to greater happiness in the workplace. While I have always believed this, and my intentions may have been good, compared to Zappo’s and many other great companies, we found that we can be so much more deliberate and intentional about our culture and workplaces. As I continue to discover, too often to admit, we (me, other managers) simply need to get out of the way, to listen much better, and encourage our team to step up and lead; and they have…and they want to, and we’re just getting started.
Zappos and other great companies like them focus as much attention and energy on their culture, as they do their products and customers. They are driven and intentional about it…whereas we just kind of always “knew” we’d have a great culture and had all of our guns…all of our resources…pointed outwards, to the marketplace. And while we created a great company with a great team, we are learning that it can be so much more, so much better. We are probably very late to the party in discovering this but are working hard to catch up. We created a “Culture Club” that started as the group that got together to read Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness. By the time we finished the book, we all realized that we had only scratched the surface and that our company could be so much more. So we are working diligently on focusing some of our immense talent and energy on our own environments and what we can do to create a world-class culture. It has been a very rewarding experience; sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but worth every minute of it. I’ll continue to keep you in the loop.
From the beginning, I endeavored to surround myself with people better than me at every position in the company. Normy teases me that this was not a very difficult thing to accomplish! But nonetheless, I have certainly been successful with this goal and vision. And for the awesome team that we’ve assembled, I’d like to mention just a few of the honors that they received this year and toot their horns:
– Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association’s Company of the Year
– KC’s Best Coffee Shop (KC Magazine)
– The Roasterie Cafe Top 20 Under 20 Award
– Coolest Coffeehouse (Travel + Leisure)
– Most Admired Alumni – Top 10 Small Business – KC Chamber of Commerce
– Urban Hero Award (Downtown Council)
– Best Company to Work for (Ingram’s Magazine)
– Top Companies of 2011 (Ingram’s Magazine)
– Humanitarian Award, Iowa State University Alumni Association
Great job Team Roasterie!!
Our factory expansion design is complete and we hope to begin construction next month. We are BEYOND excited and will have lots more to share with you over the next six months. It is going to look like this (see below) and we hope that it becomes an icon of our beloved Kansas City. Thank you to everyone for helping make this dream come true.
We have taken possession of our old plant at 2601 Madison, where we roasted for 10 years. If we had not outgrown it, we’d still be there today. We would love to see one of our friends take it over and at less than $2/sq’, it is a steal. It’s about 15,000 sq’ with a dock and drive-in. Let us know if you would like to see it.
Off to Origin
We leave this week for Costa Rica for our annual staff trip to visit our dear friend Grace Mena and some of the best coffee farms in the world; one of them that we’ve been partners with since 1997. Our whole family is going and Terry and I are going on a side trip to Panama, too, to visit coffee farms. Going back to Costa Rica is like going home in many ways…back to where I first picked coffee as a high school foreign exchange student in 1978. While Paul leads the trips now, it’s as moving as ever to be among the coffee growers and the smells and aromas of coffee farms 24 hours a day.
All of us here at The Roasterie thank you for your support and friendship. We welcome your input and encourage you to let us know how we can better serve you. While we do strive to be perfect, we are conscious on a daily basis that we are not and we are constantly focused on improving our service to you.