The Pilot's Blog

The Roasterie Newsletter September 2011

9-13-2011
Dear Roasterie Friends and FamilyIt feels so awesome to have fall upon us again! It’s always been a magical time for me and the older I get the more I love it. We’ve had a Norman Rockwell-style of a summer and each year I think that it cannot possibly get better, it does. I found myself saying all summer long “this is by far the best summer I’ve ever had in my life”…and it was.

We began by pulling “Flo”, our 1937 Chrysler Airflow to the Chrysler Airflow Club of America meet in Durango, Colorado in June. It was the first real domestic vacation that we’ve ever taken as a family. The old narrow gauge railroad to Silverton was an absolute blast and one of the key highlights, as well as a tour of Durango with docents in period dress (and in character) giving a fun and lively tour. Terry and Sophia did great and it was the best vacation of my life.

We also went to the opening Notre Dame game as a family, also taking my brother Brian. In spite of Tommy Freeman’s blessings and our locker room and stadium passes, the game was a brutal affair of self-sabotage; we lost, successfully beating ourselves. However, we did have a great deal of fun and seeing Brian’s face beaming next to the “Play like a champion today” sign was worth the trip by itself.

New Opportunities
We were back a few days when we received a call from Europe to come and look at a very sophisticated piece of packaging equipment that would be a game changer for our little company, and potentially our entire industry. We had been in discussions about it for many months but all of the sudden a window opened up and we jumped at the opportunity. So on a couple of days’ notice, Terry and I flew to Milan and spent several days touring various aspects of this new product. There is so much more that I wish I could talk about but until we have agreements signed I have to wait. Suffice it to say that it will be the biggest thing that we’ve ever done as a company, times 100!  And hopefully before the end of the year we can tell you all about it.

Once our work was completed, Terry and I took off and drove all over the Italian countryside, just having a riot. We had the time of our lives driving 100 MPH in our baby rental car, in the middle lane…until on the 3rd day I read the signs that indicate that each of the 3 lanes has separate speed limits (middle and left being slower)…and that everything is electronically recorded…and I had visions of speeding tickets from Italy coming in the mail.  So, we went to the Ferrari museum and had even more fun there. Having a 5-year-old that is as much of a gearhead and as into internal combustion motors as I am is an absolute dream! And thankfully (at least thus far) no tickets.

Sophie’s 3 years old!
Terry and I arrived back home on Sophia’s 3rd birthday and that was very special. While we had chatted via Skype while we were gone, they really missed each other. It was evident at her party how much Terry missed her and I was especially gratified by the way Terry stepped aside and allowed the stage lights to shine on Sophie. He did not want to talk about his trip; he simply wanted to celebrate Sophie’s birthday and was all about making her the hero. And Sophie, of course, was all about letting that happen and being very, very comfortable in her princess role. They do get along so well and have so much fun together and Terry is patient and a really good teacher…unlike his dad. Terry started kindergarten this year and Sophie is in her first year of pre-k.

Just a few days later Carla, Sophie and Terry got back on a plane and went to Lebanon for 3 weeks. It coincided perfectly with the brutal hot spell…good for them…not so good for me. I stayed behind to focus on the plant remodel (more about this later), the new product that we’re working on, and finally the property that we purchased across the street from our factory (2.2 acres). But it was the longest 3 weeks of my life, and we agreed as a family that we’d never again do that. But I think it was probably good for all of us to remind us of just how important being together is to us, and what kind of a lifestyle we want to have. The ‘family unit’ spending time together is priority number one…number one through ten, actually.

Zappos, Culture, Leadership
As I wrote about last time, I’ve really been smitten with their CEO Tony Hsieh their team but most importantly, with their culture.  I very much endeavor to build a sustainable culture much like Zappos. I heard Tony speak here in town (thank you Greater KC Chamber of Commerce), met him, read his book and while the family was in Lebanon went to Las Vegas to tour the Zappos company. I was just moved, just blown away both by what I found…and didn’t find. One of their top ten values is ‘doing more with less’. The Iowa farm boy in me just loves this, and so does the entrepreneur in me. The philosophy of doing more with less has always inspired me, and I think those of us here in the Midwest just four generations or so from growing up on the prairie have it in our DNA.

We met Tony three different times while on the tour, once while sitting in his ‘office’, which is a nondescript cube just like the hundreds of others out in the middle of the floor. Just like everyone else. It was a fun, crazy, zany atmosphere…yet totally focused on the customer and the employees and the ‘experience’ of each of them. I experienced so many aspects that I hope our team can embrace in our culture. To that end, everyone in our company received a copy of Tony’s “Delivering Happiness” and we formed a book club to discuss it. Now it looks like the book club will carry on and kind of be the ‘champion’ of our own mission to better define our own culture. I am very, very proud of the team that we have and the culture we created…and I think the team is, too. But we agree that over the last 18 years, we’ve kind of circled the wagons and have all of our guns focused outside; on the customer, on the community, on charitable fund raising, on the farmers, etc. And that is all great and we’re going to keep doing it. But as we discussed it, we realized that we have not had this intentional, deliberate focus on our own team, our own culture. We just kind of assumed it…and with respect to the team we have right now, we did a great job. But we were all super moved by looking at Zappos and then back at ourselves and seeing how much more we can do, how much more we can accomplish, if we just take 2 or 3 of our ‘guns’ and point them inward at the team and culture of our company. It’s all about the experience, the experience that we want to create for our customers and the experience that we want to create for our team. I think we believed that we were doing okay in this regard, but this has really opened our eyes to how much more we can do.

One of my favorite local leaders is Father Curran, President of Rockhurst University. Aside from being humble and brilliant and likeable, he’s a great leader. By focusing on intentionality and deliberateness, he has transformed the culture and the organization as a whole in a very short time.  Like Tony at Zappos, he has a very transparent and open communication style and it just makes people want to jump in and follow him.

Another favorite local leader is Dan Hesse at Sprint. Again, aside from being humble and funny and brilliant, Dan is a great guy and a truly transformational leader. Dan has done a tremendous job of leading the cultural transformation of Sprint and we’re happy and proud as Sprint customers to experience this first hand.

We spend a lot of time in the library now with the kids and this has also been wonderful, awesome transformation. The ‘before Crosby Kemper” and “after Crosby Kemper” juxtaposition is stark and I am just a huge fan of Crosby and all that he’s accomplished with his team. Instead of dull, drab surroundings with customer service that left much to be desired, we have bright, fun, happy libraries with employees that like their jobs and don’t hate kids!  At some level, isn’t it actually a good thing to have kids smile and be happy in a library? Doesn’t that enhance the learning experience? It seems like Crosby’s team believes this as the libraries we go to now are full…and not with crabby people!

Finally, we love the transformation that Randy Wisthoff has led at the zoo. I love experiencing the smiling faces of the crew that works there now…happy people genuinely happy that you’re there. Things work, things run on time. Things are painted, grass is mowed, trees are pruned…someone is paying attention to the details and it shows everywhere. I used to avoid the zoo personnel and now I go out of my way every time I’m there to tell them how great they are doing.

There are many more great local leaders and I’ll talk about them in the future. One of the aspects of this group that I find most appealing is how they all transformed a culture, rather than built one from scratch, which is infinitely more difficult. And their humility, honesty, transparency and focus on internal culture are both inspiring and timeless. They are a great example for us as our ‘book club’ continues on our journey.

Tours, etc.
Our tours continue to grow and we’ve had to add additional times on the weekends. We’re also doing daily tours at 10:00 A.M. during the week. Inspired by Zappos, we happily accepted a pilot’s chair and Amanda created an awesome ‘photo op’ for folks on the tour. You can don a pilot’s hat, aviator glasses or an assortment of other fun stuff that we got at US Toy and have your photo taken. We then upload them immediately and they are immediately available to you. This has been a total hoot and continues to drive more tour folks and more fun and zany ideas…and more happy people.

Last week Kelly bought a commercial popcorn popper and started making popcorn for the team. Another idea was to begin stocking healthy treats around the company. Zappos had treats EVERYWHERE and while we loved the idea, our interpretation of it is going to be healthy snacks everywhere. More flexible hours were implemented after the first session of our book club and now Kelly is acting as the ‘receiver’ of fun ideas. She has her Roasterie lunch pail on her desk full time and is doing a great job with our club. We are joining the KC Library’s “Big Read” next month and as a company, reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. If you don’t already know about this super fun and cool event, check out www.kclibrary.org/bigread.

Street Team
You may have met our newest bean by now, Jayci McKenney, “Scene Bean”. Jayci is in charge of our Street Team (hence Scene Bean) and she whips our 31′ Airstream Mobile Coffee Unit around like nobody’s business! She is a K State grad (go Cats!) and was on their rowing team. She is building a bigger team of dedicated volunteers, so if any of you are interested in joining her elite team just let us know. You get free coffee, a super cool shirt, tickets to some of the coolest events in town and get to meet some of the nicest people on the planet, Kansas Citian’s. You must love coffee, love Kansas City, love people and be happy; Jayci can teach you the rest.  It’s a total riot and a major part of our “taste good, do good” culture.

Jayci and I were talking last week about our Airstream and then food trucks in general. I told her that I fell in love with food trucks back in 1980 on my first visit to NYC. It is still one of my favorite things to do, go get falafel and gyros and all kinds of other food that my wife will never eat. My friends would always mock me and for years food trucks were known as “roach coaches”. We got our Airstream the year that Terry was born (2005) and we camped in it the first two years before the conversion. But who would have thought that all these years later, food trucks are now mainstream?! It’s wild…and kind of reminds me of garage doors. I told Jayci that we would get huge laughs if we went back to Iowa and told them that garage doors had now crossed over the line to “cool” with the mainstream populace!  Who would have ‘thunk it’??? But here we are, the proud owners of many a garage door and a 1978 31′ Airstream International that’s now cooler than the day it was made…that will be safely ensconced behind a shiny new garage door in our new space.

Community
As I mentioned earlier, we are still deeply involved in all aspects of our local community. Now more than ever there are heart-wrenching cases of people in need, right here in KC. Last week our team went out to Harvesters (www.harvesters.org) to pack food and while it was a great and inspiring evening the number of folks that need help, especially children, in our own community is just hard to fathom. We will be heavily involved in the BackSnack program again this year and encourage you all to join us. We’d like some challenges, new ideas, any way to help. There are over 12,000 children enrolled now, many for whom this is the only food that they can count on over the weekend. Harvester’s has dozens of ways to help and we encourage you to get involved in any way that you can.

Our team is also very committed to Operation Breakthrough (www.operationbreakthrough.org). We commend, salute, and congratulate Sister Berta and her team and the Mother Theresa style of work that they do. I’m reduced to tears every time I think about the children that they serve…but she and her team are making a difference. We collected all kinds of things…travel amenities, money, underwear, coffee, TV’s, furniture, etc. Always think about her and her kids when you know of an item that can be used by a family in need. They are doing great work there…just life-changing, inspiring good work and we strongly encourage anyone interested to get involved.

We’re still green (and Irish)

Last month we moved our last, final little dumpster about 100 yards to the rear of our factory to help us decrease the remaining waste that is going into it. All of our coffee grounds have found homes in the gardens of our customers, as well as all chaff from the roasters. Lafarge is taking all of our packaging that is not 100% recyclable and we still bale all corrugated and recycle all of our office paper. We have issues with particular items now and then but our team is on it and the folks at Bridging the Gap have been great to work with.

We love buses
(and we’re going to love light rail or cable or any kind of trains, too!)

We’ve been struggling a bit with the options available for our team with public transportation, but have been finding solutions as we focus on it; enough so that we garnered an award with the Green Commute Challenge. But we’re just getting started. I can sure appreciate the struggles that some folks have to go through for transportation, and when I think of a single mother and kids, it just rips my heart out. I can walk a block and get on the bus right in Brookside, transfer at the Plaza, and get dropped off two blocks from our front door at the plant. I talk to the nice drivers, other folks on the bus; it’s cool, spacious, quiet…nothing not to like. But a couple of weeks ago I helped a lady with her three grocery bags to a bench where she would wait for her transfer. I envisioned her with kids…and doctor’s appointments, and shopping, and sports…and all the basic things that we take for granted with our personal cars and simply don’t know how they can do it. My commute on a bus is zero sacrifice in comparison and I’m learning a lot by taking it. And our team members who live close to the factory or Cafes are taking bicycles of course, too.

We love Solar!
Big thanks to Adam Blake with Brightergy Solar Solutions for getting us set up for a 25KW solar panel array for the roof of our factory. In addition to decreasing our carbon footprint, it has inspired our team to find even more ways to do so and we’ve kind of made it a challenge. We’ll incorporate many of the new ideas into our plant expansion/remodel, which I will talk about right now! We’re not sending out self-congratulatory press releases about it but we love what we’re doing in becoming an even greener, Green Machine!

Dream Big! Plant Expansion and Remodel

Exterior View of The Roasterie

Those were the words of our banker, Grant Burcham, when we embarked on this journey; so we did!  The rendering above is what we’re working on as we speak. We’ve purchased the plane (a DC3 that participated in the Berlin airlift; thank you Bob Dodson of Dodson Aviation!), we’ve chosen the architects, International Architects Atelier (who also had the roundhouse project across SW Blvd), and have built new docks and are thick into the planning of the rest of the project. Big time thanks go to the EDC, Rick Usher, KCP&L, Sly James and a long list of other folks who are helping us create what we feel will be an icon of KC for decades to come.

The new space will incorporate a new cupping room and lab, new Roasterie Café open to the public full time with seating for 78 people inside and 50 people outside, smokin’ cool special event space with 110′ of windows facing the roasting floor, a community room for local organizations to use, parking less than 50′ from the front door and a host of new goodies for the team. WE CANNOT WAIT!!! We will track it all on our website and invite you all to follow along. We are working on a timeline that will see it completed next summer. And while that feels like a long time to have to wait,we’ll need every day to make it happen. Working with basically 4 buildings that have been glommed together over the years makes it even more challenging, and fun! We’re also salvaging/repurposing (in Iowa we used to just say ‘reuse’) everything that we can and this also takes a bit longer. At any rate, we are beyond excited and we’ll keep you all in the loop.

Books
It’s a little embarrassing as far as the books I’ve read this summer. Aside from rereading much of “Good to Great” and “Delivering Happiness”, I read “The Triple Agent” by Joby Warrick. It’s a true story about the al ‘Qaeda Mole who infiltrated the CIA and it’s a thriller. Rainy Day Books can get you fixed up. I’m just finishing “Car Guys V. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business by Bob Lutz. You probably recognize him from his car fame…creator of muscle cars like the GTO, stints at GM and Chrysler and one of the best eyes for auto design in the world. And I just read this week that at 79 years old, he’s coming back to GM once again…and I’m sure we’ll be all the better for it. It’s a great read and he’s a surprisingly good writer. And I’m learning a lot about the industry that I didn’t know.

Cafes Did It Again!
The team once again was voted Best Coffeehouse in KC by the readers of KC  Magazine. This is the 5th time out of the 5 years that we’ve been open that we’ve won it…and thank you for the super team we have at The Cafes and thank you Kansas City for your votes!  Brookside continues to inspire us and there are many days that I wish I could just delegate everything on my plate and sit there all day and chat with our customers. I’m energized every time I walk in there. And Leawood is the same, but 20 minutes from our house instead of 1 minute.  We absolutely love the neighborhood and the other shop owners have been great to work with. We’re thrilled to have JT with La Bodega and Christopher Elbow with Glace’ as neighbors, too. Leawood has been a joy; even the building process was fun. Our team there gets as many compliments as Brookside and if one didn’t know already, you’d never know that it’s only been open for 10 months. Congratulations to the Café Team! (And check out their new, KILLER cupcakes!!!)

From Paul the Bean Hunter!
In the last quarter we have had some very special coffees come across our table and go out to our customers. The first coffee that blew my mind was the new crop Ethiopian Fair Trade Organic (http://bit.ly/akeUyD); it was and still is the highest scored coffee that has been on our cupping table, scoring an amazing 92 points. This coffee comes from the Yirgacheffe growing region in southern Ethiopia, and is riddled with complex fruit notes, ranging from sweet peach to ripe raspberry.

The second coffee I would like to talk about is the Candelilla Peaberry (http://bit.ly/oOYMzR), for those of you not familiar with a peaberry, it is actually an abnormality that occurs when only one coffee bean (instead of the usual two) form inside the coffee cherry. This abnormality used to be considered a defect in coffee until it was found that it actually has a more intense and concentrated profile. This particular peaberry comes from the Terrazu’ growing region in Costa Rica and holds true to the traditional Costa Rican coffee profile that is intensified by the abnormality of the peaberry, which is an intense  sweetness and a particularly bright cup with unique floral and citrus notes. This coffee also received a score of 90 from Coffee Review, we were only able to acquire a little less than 800 pounds of this coffee and we as of today only have about 90 pounds left to roast, so if you want to experience this remarkably unique coffee you better hurry.

Lastly I would like to talk about one of the most spectacular coffees that we have offered in the recent years. We were lucky and humbled to get the opportunity to purchase 260 pounds of the Las Lajas Honey processed coffee. What makes this coffee different is the honey-processing method, in which all of the “fruit” is left on the coffee beans after they are removed from the coffee cherries. As the coffee is dried the fruit on the outside makes it look as though someone has covered the drying coffee with honey-thus the name “honey-processed.” It also gives the coffee an amazingly unique yet complex profile that is candy sweet with sweet citris acidity, notes of Meyer lemon and a remarkable everlasting milk chocolate finish.  This coffee scored a 92 on Coffee Review and astonishingly after having it available for only 3 weeks we have sold out. We hope to get some more next year so that those of you who didn’t get a chance to try it, do.

Upcoming coffees- Within the next few weeks we have a few more reserve coffees being released. We have a natural processed Costa Rican as well as 2 offerings from the Cup of Excellence program one from Honduras and the other from Nicaragua and a very, very unique Honey Processed peaberry… all of which I am very excited for.

2601 Madison Factory

Many of you visited us at our old location up the street, which still has our Roasterie logo on it. We were there for 10 years and loved every minute of it. It is great space, highly visible and very affordable; and beginning October 1st, it will become available for lease. If you are interested or know anyone that is, just let us know and we’ll be happy to show it to you. It’s approximately 15,000 sq’ with an enclosed dock as well as driveway for inside parking…and very inexpensive.

Sly
In closing, I’d like to give a shout out to Sly James, our mayor, for the great job that he is doing in leading this great city of ours. We are a great city and we can do great things and I truly believe that our best years are in front of us, not behind us. I commend his positive attitude, his energy, his inherent fairness and his huge smile. I would follow this guy off a cliff! I’m loving the things that we’re getting done and the projects that are getting addressed.  I’m especially loving the slow-but-sure transformation of how our city government works. At the end of the day, government is every bit “of and for the people” but that train ran off the tracks some time back and it became a bastion of “no”…and anything but “of and for the people”.

When I travel and hear people say where they’re from, they almost always say Kansas City, even if they’re from Lee’s Summit or Olathe or Leawood; and I think that’s cool. I am a loud and unabashed fan of Kansas City, of the entire community. Our Street Team is serving folks from one end of this community to the other…and the last thing that would ever cross our minds is borders, real or imagined. Much of the heavy lifting that we have in front of us is going to require that the entire community be involved and be supportive. Our sports teams, zoo, arts communities, museums, schools, downtown, etc. all make us a real city, and a better one. The Chamber’s “Big 5 Ideas”  would be a great place to demonstrate community-wide support for this city that we all love. Please get involved when and how you see fit. We have the right leaders at the right time.

Closing
Suicide Hill Park, espresso’s on our Café patios, and drinking the Kauffman Center of
Performing Arts Blend coffee at their grand opening. I’m anxious for Halloween with the kids, Charlie Brown specials, and the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot.  I’m anxious to scream like a baby at the haunted houses, motorcycle rides on cool, crisp mornings, and for every moment I get to lay eyes on my wife and kids. I always considered myself a very happy person…maybe an 8 or 8.5 on a 10 scale. But this whole notion of happiness, and what makes happiness, is really cool. So when you really set out to be happy…to endeavor to be happy, lots of great stuff happens. I have always had a passion for chocolate, coffee, ice cream, fun people and absolute speed of any kind. These things have ALWAYS made me happy! But when you really endeavor to BE happy, all kinds of happiness occur, all around you! Happy attracts happy, just like crabby and miserable attracts crabby and miserable.  And I found that getting to a 9 or so on the happiness scale is a huge difference than being at an 8 or so. So, I’m on an unabashed happiness kick that I am becoming very deliberate and very intentional about. And it has been fun and so far, over the last few months no one has lined up and tried to talk me out of it!

And at the end of the day, it is my sincere hope that we can affect the service that we deliver to you in a very positive, measurable way. We have a great team committed to you and your success. And we want to continue to hear every idea or suggestion that you have for how we might improve our service, products or experience.

We exist to:

  •  Find the best coffee that exists on the planet
  •  Roast it the best way known to mankind
  •  Get it to you as fast as is humanly possible

We laid this out in the summer of 1993, six months before we started the company, and it’s never changed.

We thank you for your continued support and hope that your fall is the best one ever. Go Clones; go Irish.

With gratitude,

Danny O’Neill
Bean Baron

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