Dear Roasterie Friends and Family,
Hi everyone! I hope your summer was great and your fall even better. In my last letter (August), I shared that it was by far the best summer of our lives and it’s migrated right to the fall, too. We were just getting ready to go visit Carla’s family in Lebanon and we really had the time of our lives.
We arrived in Beirut and went straight up to the mountains, which has weather much like the Rockies in Colorado during the summer. We spent nearly every day just playing with Terry and Sophia, reading, drinking coffee, and visiting friends and family. Every other day Terry and I went on a walk around the mountain that was nearly four miles long…and he made it on his own nearly every time! He is so tough…and so adventurous and naturally curious that we’re just inseparable. And Sophie is already turning out to be the same way (she’s 15 months old).
Terry is a nut for the garden so he and grandpa worked there each day. It was beautiful being
with family and being able to wind down. Our dear friends, Anthony and Annette, visited several times and we went down to Beirut for lunches and dinners with them as well. Back in 2000, they were on a European coffeehouse tour with me and later introduced me to their friend, Carla…who became my wifeJ. Not that long ago we were all single and now, in what seems the blink of an eye, we have 9 children between us…5 of them @ four years old! It is surreal…we used to have intimate dinners together…now they are like a school lunch room, and we love every second of it
Normy joined us near the end of our trip to do some training with Anthony’s roasting staffand it was a blast to show him around Lebanon. We sat on the balcony of the 100+ year old house where you can see the sea shore in Beirut. We studied the bridge nearby on the road to Damascus. We talked about it and agreed that it was like a metaphor for how complex the world has become. During the war a couple of summers ago, the Israeli’s bombed it to stop the Syrian’s from shipping arms in to support Hezbollah, who had attacked Israel from Southern Lebanon. It was built with U.S. dollars by an Italian company; it is now being rebuilt with US dollars by local companies. And all the Lebanese wanted (the majority of them) was to live in peace and have their normal lives. But they are caught in the crossfire in a volatile area of the world.
In addition to a couple of dozen past issues of The New Yorker, I read the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Tribes, by Seth Godin. I started The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley, a book about Teddy Roosevelt, and have to admit that I am still working on it. It is a great read, but a hefty one. I’d recommend all three of them; the first two can be read in a weekend or two quite easily.
The trip is right around 27 hours or so and both kids did so well. We had many passengers and flight attendants compliment us on how well behaved they were and how well that they travel. Carla and I laughed because the first couple of times folks had approached us, we were sure that it was to complain about them. But they already have 11 international trips between them and it’s something that they view as normal…but we still feel blessed. They both continue with their Arabic and English and are both outgoing and love life.
We returned to a whirlwind of activity. The expansion of The Roasterie Café was nearly complete and the remodel inside had begun. It is really beautiful and if you haven’t been by, we sure hope you’ll come check it out soon. The biggest complaint since we’ve opened is “there are not enough places to sit down”. We should gain at least 30-35 seats and the layout is much, much more efficient. Paul Dorrell of Leopold Gallery has done a tremendous job with original art for the Café and also hooked us up with Matt Kirby, an accomplished sculptor from Lawrence, who built a custom, coffee cup bike rack out of stainless steel. It is beautiful…true art and has been filled up since it was installed. We’ll nearly triple the amount of space for art inside when we’re finished.
We are also in the finishing touches of a new website. It’s more complex…and more expensiveL than the previous three sites put together but I guess that’s a reflection of the times and our collective expectations. We tried to make it as easy and informative as possible and the early feedback has been really positive and exciting. We hope you’ll check it out and let us know if you have any feedback for us. We are still tweaking it and will continue to improve it on a daily basis. Check out our specials http://www.theroasterie.com/ and I won’t list them here.
We hooked up with the Airline History Museum (near and dear to Normy’s and my heart) and were able to take several hundred photos of the DC3 airplane. We also went out to the country and shot photos of a beautiful Airstream and you’ll be seeing a lot of both of these icons very soonJ, with our new designs.
Last week we were talking about carbon footprints, recycling and getting the word out that we need help with a couple of issues. For example, we’ve been told several times that we cannot recycle our paper cups at the Café because they have coffee residue. This seems bogus and lame…but the fact is, we haven’t been able to recycle them. We also generate a lot of chaff from our roasters that is great for compost. We have some people taking some for their garden and I take the rest to our little farm, but we could give a lot more away to gardeners. It is very light, mixes easily, and smells great! We’ve added information to our new website about what we’ve done, are in the process of doing, and what we’re still working on. We sure invite your suggestions and assistance.
I recounted in this conversation about how we recycled everything…everything while growing up. We used brown grocery sacks for book covers; we lined our wastepaper baskets with newspapers. We had glass bottles of milk delivered to our house for years…then we’d take either the wagon or toboggan to the store when the home delivery ended (11 gallons a week). When friends would mention a dishwasher to my mom, she’d say “Why do I need one, I have ten of them!” We did dishes by hand our entire childhoods. Standing in front of the refrigerator for too long with the door open was a surefire way to get cracked upside the head! And I honestly don’t remember ever running out of hot water, even with ten kids and a 40 gallon water heater. We took “Navy” showers, as my mom called them. None of it seemed or felt like duress; and it still doesn’t today.
Normy and I were raised in much the same way back in Iowa and we’re going back to many of those ways; Normy would argue that I never changed…that I’m as frugal as I was then. But it feels good…and it’s good for our children’s world…and its good business.
A couple of weeks ago I heard Fr. Curran, the President of Park University, speak on campus. He spoke about the Jesuit motto “Men and women for and with others” and we discussed the Jesuit traditions. No matter what faith one is, how could you not be ‘for’ that? This really struck me that day, this message if you will, with its honest beauty and simplicity. Fr. Curran is a wonderful speaker and beyond engaging and speaks with such clarity. The older I get the more spiritual I feel and the less “religious”. And the more I travel, the more complexity I see, the more I see the need for “Men and women for others”.
He spoke about discernment and the absence of judgment and how we can each do our part to change the world. This validated the work that we are doing in the communities that we share, both here and at origin. There are a great many people, through no fault of their own, who need assistance. Our model is based on the idea of helping people through teaching them ‘how to fish’, vs. ‘giving them food’. We are very keen on this.
Finally, another point that Father made with reference to university improvements was the”tension between the already and the not-yet”. This also resonated with me and made me think of one of my favorite books of all time, Good to Great. We are in this tension that Fr. Spoke of…a very healthy tension. It’s all about continuous improvement and focusing on what you do best. We have grown a lot over the years and I felt our culture changing over the last few years; and not necessarily for the better. So we set about getting back to our roots, focusing on what is important, and being the best in the world at it. We achieved ISO 9001 certification, formed teams, flattened the already pretty flat company, and reaffirmed our mission:
To find the best coffee that we can find on the planet.
To roast it the best way known to mankind.
To deliver it to the customers as fast as is humanly possible.
This is where this “bus” is headed; and that tension that Fr. spoke of is helping us get our bus in order with respect to the right folks on it and the right folks in the right seats.
On October 10th, Terry’s 4 yr. birthday, Paul Massard, our new Coffee Hunter and I, took off for a drive to Panama. Paul has been with us for about six months and is the godson of one of my best friends. He interned with coffee companies for two summers while getting his masters in finance and fell in love with coffee. Once Salim introduced him to us, we all fell in love with him. We brought him to town and basically did a “Hardball” series of tests and interviews with him. Normy gave him a barrage of sensory evaluation tests and Nathan sent him through a litany of financial, mathematical, operational and other quizzes and tests. We had hours of discussions about culture, core values, performance, etc. and did our best to either attract him or scare him off; and we attracted him.
Paul is working with Normy in our green coffee department and will spend a great deal of his time at origin. For many years I did about 12 trips a year and now do around 6; Paul will do those and many more. In thinking about his training, I really wanted to do an ‘immersion’ type of training where he would see the entire coffee ‘chain’ in a short amount of time. So, I reprised the trip I did 7 years ago but this time with Paul in a Toyota Tundra, nicknamed The White Knight by Paul (you can read his blogs and see lots of photos on our website http://www.theroasterie.com).
This time, however, we only had 11 days to cover the 4,000+ miles and what would be 14 border crossings covering 8 countries. Several university board meetings bookended the front end and the need to witness Notre Dame spank Boston College in South Bend provided the other bookend. So, Paul did all the planning on this end and we got our ducks in line.
Our dear friend and coffee miller/grower/producer/partner Grace Mena from Costa Rica decided to join us and was instrumental in planning the trip. She met us in Vera Cruz, Mexico and we visited farms, mills, coffee research facilities, etc. along the way. Each day was early and long, but simply a once in a lifetime experience. The look on people’s faces when we drove up was priceless; for some it was the second time I visited…by car from the US, and now they totally think I’m nuts. But it was so bountiful in terms of what we learned; it far and away exceeded our expectations. We shared key learnings with farmers along the way; I’d visited farms in several countries on a single trip many times before. But never this many farms in 7 different countries in such a compact amount of time. It was just such a great learning experience for Paul…for all of us; and a double blessing to be able to share so much diverse acquired know-how along the way with all of the farmers.
Seven years ago we were in the middle of a severe coffee crisis with prices at all time lows. Many farmers were simply walking off of their farms and abandoning them. The coffee market was at $.47/lb. and it cost nearly double that to break even; so why even bother picking it? Every pound picked could result in another significant loss; it was depressing.
While the situation is much better today, it’s still just an incredibly hard life in that it takes such an immense amount of work, just to break even. The farmers selling to specialty roasters like ours are doing much better but still, all together, Specialty Coffee only represents about 16-17% of the market. The remaining 83% of the coffee is low-priced commercial coffee, which at best supports subsistence living, at best. I don’t have time in this letter to go into all the detail but I will in an upcoming letter and we’ll be posting lots of additional information on our website, complete with ways in which folks can help out, if they choose to.
Arriving in Costa Rica was like coming home! The scenery, scents, countryside all made me anxious to get to my host families house. When I left in 1979, my host mother gave me a key to the house (very, very prized possession in those days) and told me to “just come back; don’t call, just come back and let yourself in”. I returned dozens of times but never unannounced. This time, I thought I would. So, we dropped Grace off (more like dumpedJ) and Paul and I drove up to the house, got out and knocked. It was about 10:30 P.M. and all the lights came on…then there was pandemonium! It was absolutely joyous! The surprise of all surprises. We visited, ate and had lots of fun and decided that my 11 year old niece would finish the last leg with us, to Panama and back. So, at 5:00 A.M. the next morning we were back up and off to San Jose to get Grace. We visited farms and mills along the way and made it to Boquete, in Panama, that evening. Our dear friend and coffee grower, Norberto Suarez, met us and planned the next day’s visits. Norberto has been our coffee partner for several years and his family has been growers for three generations. Like Grace, he is passionate, determined, all about total quality and continuous improvement…and a ton of fun to be with. It was sad to say goodbye.
We visited more farms in the Volcan area of Panama and then again in Costa Rica on the way back to my host family. We arrived around 9:00 P.M. and were up again by 6:00 for the trip back to KC. One of Grace’s staff met us at the airport and two hours later the “white knight” was in a container heading back to KC.
The Holy Grail
Two days later we were off to Chicago for the Notre Dame game. Paul, Nathan and I took Terry and had a great weekend. Terry’s cheering “GO IRISH” lit up our section, hotel, shuttle bus and plane for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully we won and Terry let the world know about itJ.
End this novel!
There are dozens of other exciting things that we’re doing, promotions and new staff that I want to tell you about. But, I’m already over my allotted space so I’ll cover this in my next letter. We’re doing a much better job now in marketing and Sara and Zach are doing a great job of posting what we’re up to on our website. You can follow our twitters and blogs as well. The Airstream is making lots of fun visits…and it could come to your office with coffee for up to 1,000 of your friends if you like? Check out the website and follow along.
Until then, thank you big time for your confidence and support. We never take it for granted and always want to have a ‘game day tension’ with respect to serving you and being attentive. We all want to hear from you and especially if you have any suggestions or ideas on how we can improve what we do or better serve our communities. Godspeed.
P.S. Join us for a cupping and opportunity to build your own personal blend this Sunday at Blue Stem. We have room for only 5 more :(!