Coffee Talk - The Intro | Cups To Gallons
Coffee Talk - The Intro

Coffee Talk – The Intro

Welcome everybody. Coffee Talk Live. It’s Small Business Stacey and we are here with coffee talk live. I have a very special guest today. Steven Prevost of Joe’s Brother Coffee. Jack, Joe, see I always want to call you Joe, but I know there’s a story behind this and we’re going to talk about that.

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Here’s the transcript:

Steven is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’m actually from Washington DC. Where are you from? If you’re joining us live, go ahead and pop in the comments. Let us know where you are and the name of your coffee shop. We’d love to connect with you. Okay, Steven, I’m so glad you’re joining me today. We’re gonna talk coffee marketing and have a lot of fun along the way. So why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and more importantly, how you got into the coffee business.

Well, it’s a little bit of a sad start I guess. Okay, well we’ll start with sad news. Not really sure where to begin, but I usually just tell people, my brother and my father both had ALS and my father passed away in 1997. My brother passed away in 2012 so in 2012, as you can imagine, I’m reeling with the death of my brother and trying to make sense of things and make something good come out of something horrible. And, and he and I both are huge, like coffee junkies. And at one point he had a coffee shop of his own up north in our hometown. And, so it just kind of came to me, I guess do something with coffee. So, I conceived of Joe’s Brother Coffee. I was going to call that Joe Coffee, but that name was already taken. So little by little I started reading and learning about coffee and then I contracted with another roaster in Michigan. I would buy their beans and put my name on them. But as I was talking to people about my story and my brand and everything like that they were just like, man do it yourself. So the next move is to get a roaster and start roasting my own. So, that was in 2013, 2014 when I started doing that and here we are 2019.

I’m still working on it with a lot of kinks, but yeah, so I roast, in memory of my brother and then the profits that I get, I donate to ALS research. There’s a couple of national charities and then there’s one here locally that I’ve been really working with lately. So, a lot of my money goes to them and they actually, they’re more of a hands on care services,  kind of organization. So if, somebody is newly diagnosed, they have support groups. If they’ve, if they’re in need of a wheelchair, they provide a wheelchair. If they’re in need of counseling, they have that too. Or they can help people maneuver through the nightmare of working with doctors and researchers and getting into test groups, things like that. So, I said, it started a little bit sad, but it’s turned into good. So it’s bringing a lot of awareness to ALS and it’s a really good conversation starter and people are really behind it now that they know that I’m roasting my own and things like that. So, it’s been a huge, huge learning experience.

Joe's Brother Coffee

Joe’s Brother Coffee

Well, I love that you’re so open and willing to share. What was your brother’s favorite coffee drink?

Pretty much anything with caffeine in it and that is a lot of it.  The funny thing is that neither of us were really what you might call coffee nerds or snobs. It was just give me all the coffee I can drink and dress it up a little bit. Once in awhile,  99% of the coffee I drink is black.  I got off sugar a couple of years, so I try to keep it a natural as much as possible. But I always tell people, if you want to ruin it, go ahead and put cream and sugar in it.

I like mine that way. Yup. Tell everybody a little bit about how did you learn how to get into roasting and what makes your coffee so special?

Well, it’s a lot of reading. A lot of reading and you self taught yourself. Yeah. Yeah. Essentially cause there’s not a school that you can go to really unless you want to spend,  five or $6,000 and go out West to the specialty coffee association. They host a couple of learning events a few times a year and that kind of thing. But that was well beyond my budget, so it was just get in and find a roaster that I could afford to buy.  I’m working out of my pocket, so whatever little bit of money I can scrounge up. So I saved for a couple of years, and I got my first roaster. What I got was, it’s a, a fluid air bed roaster.

I always tell people it’s kind of like a popcorn popper on steroids because, I’m sure younger people probably may not know, but you know, I grew up on air popped popcorn with my mom. And so, it’s a chamber where the air is blowing the popcorn kernels around in a, like a tornado, and then, of course, your freshly popped popcorn comes out and falls into the bowl. Well, the coffee roasters works on that same principle, just not the same design. But it does, it turns the beans around in, in like a tornado. It’s like a fluid bed of air. So the beans are swishing around in the chamber, and cooking, as to where more traditional coffee roasters, they have a drum roaster, which is kind of like a dryer. It’s, it’s a big drums turning like this and there’s a gas burner underneath and there’s air blowing in there.

Which is what we’ve all grew up drinking, you know, drum roasted coffee, which depending on who’s roasting, it could taste great. It could taste really bad. But that’s kind of it in a nutshell, so that the fluid air bed roasting is a little bit new. It was created by a guy named, Civets. I kinda forget what year it was, but it was long before I was born. So he designed this air roaster, which basically it’s just like I explained where it’s pushing hot air up through the beans and the beans float around and they cook. So what happens is there’s very little contact with the metal like in a drum roaster. In a drum roaster, the beans are turning around like this in a drum, and so there’s a lot of contact with the metal. So you’re getting direct heat conveyance from the drum to the bean. As opposed to in the fluid air bed roaster, you’re getting all of your heat transfer is from the air to the bean. So you get a lot less burnt flavor, and you get a lot more even cook. It’s kinda like a, a convection oven versus a standard oven.

Do you only offer it locally or tell us about your distribution.

I sell most of my beans locally, but I do have a website, that folks can buy online and then I can ship to them. I have a couple of regulars who are kind of in your neck of the woods. Georgia I think is kind of down towards DC, isn’t it? I think it’s out East a little bit. I’ve had, I’ve actually had orders from California, Texas, New York, so, you know, here and there. So, yeah, I’ve reached a few people across the country, but like I said, yeah, most of my customers are local.  I’ve been, this summer, was the first summer I started doing farmer’s markets.

Oh, talk about that. That’s a great strategy. Yeah.

Yeah, it’s, it is really great. It’s really kind of the best way to get to know your customers and see them face to face. Because,  as a roaster, I don’t have a shop where it’s not retail where people can just walk in and buy coffee. So getting out into a farmer’s market is a great opportunity because you really get to see people in their natural and environment, where they’re relaxed and they’re open to seeing, seeing and trying new things. Yeah, that’s, that’s really great. So I get to tell my story and I get to talk about my brother Joe, which is always cool cause he was like a super great guy. And then, of course, talk about ALS and coffee, which are like all my favorite subjects.

Air Bed Coffee Roaster

Right, which has actually turned into a couple of opportunities for me … I can think of the word. I met a guy who was a salesperson who sells solar power systems to do large, medium size large corporations. And I asked them, well, what do you do for a new customer who buys your system? And he’s like, sign the check. I’m like, no, I mean, how do you thank them for, you know, becoming a customer? Do you gift them anything? Well not really. I said, well, maybe a nice pound of specialty coffee and a coffee mug with your company name on it might be a just a little something to say, hey, thanks for coming on board with our company. And he’s like, ok look,  great, I’ll take 30 bags.

Wow. Gotta love that.

So it was just off a conversation. He came to my booth and was checking out my coffee. I told him my story and so on and so forth. And I really was kinda kidding with him as I said if the whole sales thing with the solar panels don’t work out, you can always maybe sell some coffee and come to work for me.  We had a good joke and both got a laugh about it. And anyway, that’s kind of what led to the lead to other opportunities.

Maybe soon there’ll be solar roasters, who knows.

Yeah. Yeah. You never know, especially if the whole grid goes solar power, wind power, all that kind of that stuff, that’s going to be interesting.

Well, you gave two great marketing examples. I’m always a big proponent of taking your business to the people. So I commend you for doing farmer’s markets because it’s great for lead generation. You get to sample, meet and greet, shake hands, and be active in your community and the idea of helping you, you know, people that you talk to help them help their customers, clients and patients. And by suggesting, hey, giving a bag of coffee and a branded cup, they probably wouldn’t have thought of that themselves. So now you get to be a go-giver. It’s sort of like this amazing circle, right, where you’ve now sold some product, you help somebody, they’re helping people and it’s just, that’s a wonderful cycle. I’d love to see that.

Yeah. Yeah. I was really excited about it. It was, it was cool talking to him cause I learned a lot about his business too when he knows solar panels, which I’m kind of like a nerd when it comes to stuff like that. One of my favorite TV shows was, how did they do that? And it was, you know, so you just has nothing to do with my life. Right. It was fun and it was interesting to watch and listen and learn. So yeah.

I’m curious to hear from you, you focus in mostly on a local area I would love to know what you’re sort of hearing out there in the coffee community for these independent coffee shop owners. Are things good? Are things slowing down? Like what, what’s the word on the street about how things are going out there?

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

T.S Elliot 

The coffee business in general, the industry is growing like gangbusters in the United States. In the United States, it’s growing okay, but In places like China, it’s really blown the roof off. Yeah, I’ve heard that.  In different parts of the world, in developing countries, it’s really going crazy gangbusters. Here what I’m seeing, probably because I’m closest to it, but what I’m seeing is a surge and people like myself who love coffee, they want to get into the business. So they buy a small roaster, they learn what they can, they learn on their own. Depending on their local market, some are thinking of a shop or they want to have a coffee shop where they’re making drinks and not just roasting coffee. Some guys do that. So I do just like me who is just, I’m kind of more focused on wholesale currently, but I mean maybe do you aspire to have a store one day or you just want to stay a roaster?

Eventually, I want to have a, what I call a coffee emporium, where people would come in, it’d be like a retail place where they could see the roasting happening and they can buy drinks from the coffee bar. And then there would be equipment like home equipment brewers. And things like that that you could buy for your home. Stuff like that. And then some gear, you know, some shirts, hats, hoodies and whatnot, stuff like that. Just probably everything coffee related would be like this giant toy store. I’m seeing a lot out there. What I’m thinking of is there’s a guy who started roasting, I think, I don’t know, a couple of years before me. I met him online. He’s out West in Oregon. He started out with the rural small one-pound roaster like myself, and he just grew it and grew it and grew it. He’s now in like 30 grocery stores. He has hotels, restaurants. He’s really built a huge brand for himself, over like past six, seven years. And now he just opened up a drive-through coffee shop. So I mean, it’s like, well, like you hear the same story for a lot of people who say I’m sick of my job, I want to do something I love. And so he did. And then he went headlong into it and really worked his butt off and grew his business. I think he said, was it last year he did $2 million in sales. So that’s a great cups to gallons example, you know, and we all start somewhere.

We all start with that first bag of coffee or opening up our coffee shop with love. Everybody always has a story behind their shop and why they started it and their passion kind of a thing. So get out in public, because you always have your ear to the wall so to speak.

I know what’s going on out there. You know, I started the Cups to Gallons Group because it’s about teaching coffee shop owners how to get into catering. And I find it so shocking how many of these guys aren’t doing it. Do you find the same thing?

Yeah. I’ve seen that quite often and I guess really a ton of it depends on your business model and what you want, but I think a lot of the times they don’t see that or even maybe conceive of the idea that well maybe that’s an arm of my company that I should have. Another great revenue-generating activity, rather than, just depending on word on the street or the college down the street that’s going to bring those kids in and buy my coffee drinks. They’re so focused on what’s like right in front of them that they just don’t really see that as an avenue to generate more money.

Here’s an example, you just gave the guy who in there was able to scale to $2 million. That is very hard to do in one coffee shop, right. When you are selling one cup at a time or in your case, one bag of coffee at a time, it’s hard to, to leverage and scale even for you. Right. If you want to scale, you’re going to have to get another roaster and add and add more and more. Yeah. By adding a different business model to these coffee shops. They already have the infrastructure, they have the shop which is their commissary, they have the client base, they have the staffing, they have the product. Really all they need is just a few minor investments in mobile equipment, like a mobile espresso machine and such. Adding catering is so lucrative and profitable. It was the key driver, of my story, that took me from $500,000 in debt to a seven-figure profitable business. And so that’s why I started this Cups to Gallons Group because I really want to teach them how to get into catering. So, that’s why I love bringing people like you onto the show to really get the nitty gritty on what’s going on in the world out there.

Coffee Warehouse

Yeah, there’s something really exciting about the coffee. Again, I’m, I’m coming from a roaster’s point of view, right? I’m, I mean, I have retail experience, but in my career life, but as, as far as my coffee life. I just loved the whole thing of just roasting and just, there’s something about it, it’s like people who just love to bake apple pies. You know,  I’m all about, I just love to do the beans. I just love to roast the beans. I love to see them change from green to light tan to little dark brown, or whatever. And so on through the whole progression and stuff like that. So, but what I’ve seen here in locally is there’s, I don’t know, two or three of them that I know of who are caterers I guess you might call them. That’s (catering) part of their whole business model.

They don’t have a shop. They have, I’m sure they have a commissary. They must, but they don’t have like a brick and mortar coffee shop. They go to directly to the people. They cater events like weddings and business meetings and so on and so forth. And they have a simple bar. It’s probably not more than six feet long. It’s got a little tiny one group of coffee makers on there. They’ve got all their cups stacked up and they got a few syrup’s, probably not more than four to six syrups. Then of course, you know, their coffee and whatever it is you need to have just to make espresso drinks and brewed coffee. That’s what they do. It’s generally on a cart, it’s got wheels, they roll it off the van, they roll it into the place, plugin and you’re ready to go and you’re serving, I don’t know, however many people, a hundred, 200, 300 people at the event and then they roll back out, put it on the van and drive away. You know, that’s, that’s their whole thing, and it seems to be working for them. They’ve got a huge following online. Lots of great compliments in the comments. Every time I look at their page, you know, they’re just, people love them, and the one guy that I know, he dresses up in like old-timey barista with the bow tie, the suspenders, and got the white shirt with the little puffy sleeves, kind of looks like an old bar guy, a bartender, from back in the day.

It’s kinda his thing, you know, the grease flip back hair, little mustache with the no handlebars. But, yeah, I mean there is really only limited to your imagination, this business. It’s, you can get into anything you want to do. So as far as being a coffee shop owner, two things I would suggest, well, the number one thing I would suggest is buy your beans from a local person who’s like right in your area. I mean everybody, you know is like I got to have the best beans, 100%, rain forest alliance only, something something or  something that, which those are all great and wonderful, but you can find them from a roaster who’s right in your own city.

I’m a huge proponent of shopping local. I always have probably will go to my grave that way. I stay out of the big box stores as much as humanly possible.

I can’t stay in them. I would rather go into a mom and pop grocery store and pay 50 cents more per item because they’re my neighbor. You know, I want to support their business. So yeah, a lot of what I see in a lot of with coffee shops is they’re buying beans from other roasters halfway across the country. You know, it’s really strange, which they’re great beans and I’ve done that myself. I still do that, but occasionally I have to order from different roasters around the country to kind of see what’s what they’re doing and taste their beans, maybe chat with them online a little bit.

Yeah, they probably don’t know about me cause I’m so small. However, there I’m in a town in Grand Rapids, MI. There’s probably 15 coffee roasters here … maybe 20. Yeah, quite a few. There’s actually quite a few. So it’s anybody, I mean, all you gotta do is open your eyes and you’ll see there’s a local coffee roaster here and I’m, I’m sure we can’t be like in a bubble here in Grand Rapids. I’m sure there are other cities like DC, there’s probably if you were to search local coffee roaster or DC coffee roaster, you probably, I would certainly would come up with probably at least a dozen coffee roasters that are just little bitty local businesses. Some of them might even be bigger businesses, but they’re there for sure. I mean, there’s … I can’t even remember, I should’ve looked this up, but there’s literally thousands upon thousands of coffee roasters across the United States.

So if you’re, if you’re supporting a business whose out, say if you’re in DC and you’re supporting a business out in California, getting your coffee beans from them and you’re, which is fine. That’s totally, totally OK, if that’s your thing, then do it. But, I would suggest you should have at least 50% of your offerings in your coffee bar from a local roaster. If you want to highlight different roasters from around the country, that’s great because they’re everywhere and they’re amazing, but you really should buy from your local people also, if possible. So if you’re going to offer say, I don’t know… six different beans in your shop, three of those beans should be from local roasters. Whether they be blends or single origins or something spectacular. This kind of bean only comes around once every five years. Yeah. $25 a pound. Great. But make sure you get that from a local guy, you know, or lady I should say, cause there’s a lot of lady roasters there too.

And then number two, like you said, get out there and cater, you know yeah. Or host events in your local area, in your building, you know, get out and touch those corporate clients. Touch base and say we can have a little meeting or you guys can have a party, host a Christmas party at my place will shut the whole place down for one night and you can have the whole place to yourself or something like that. And you know, just make a real party out of it. I think that’s an opportunity that a lot of shops miss.

Yeah. Now we’re going to be coming up into Q4 holiday season. So, now actually is the time to get that marketing plan in place and start doing your outreach because if you start doing it in November and December, it’s too late.

You gotta be calling on them right now. Get out there, like you said, leave the shop, go out there, meet them face to face and, and just say, you know, hey, I’m Joe, I own Joe’s coffee shop down on this on the corner. Have you ever thought about hosting a party or an event, a meeting outside of your building? We’ve got great pastries. We’ve got great coffee drinks. We’ll even decorate according to your brand. You know, something like that. Give them something to really turn those wheels and get them thinking about an opportunity like that.

Wow. Well, Steven, you’ve been so gracious with your time today, so we’ve run out of time. But any last parting words of advice you can give to the independent coffee shop owner to go from Cups to Gallons.

Talk to other owners, and really get to know your coffee roaster. That’s yet another thing about buying beans from your local roaster, you can have conversations with them about what kind of coffees maybe you should be offering in your shop or, having those special beans that only come around once every six months or a year. Networking basically is what it turns out to be. There seems to be a lot of competition amongst the roasters, but I don’t want to tell you too much. I’ve run into that, which is like, dude, take it easy, it’s like I’m not trying to put you out of business, right. There needs to be more of that working together going on. So because believe it or not, you’re all in the same group. You’re coffee shop owners, lean on each other, help each other because believe your customers will also go to their shop and their customers will also come to your shop. It’s a share light kind of thing, especially if you’re competing locally.

Well, those are some great parting words of advice. Do Good, be good, get good, right.

That’s right.

And learn, learn, learn. There’s some that you can never stop.

Well good. I’m glad your response of never stop learning. How can our listeners learn more about you, your coffee roasting and especially your beans.

Well, number one is through my website, That’s where I try to direct everybody. If you just want to find some great beans, that’s a great place to start. If you want to chat with me personally, I’m available through email at I’m on Facebook under Joe’s Brother Coffee. I’m on Twitter at Joe’s Brother. I’m on Instagram at Joe’s Brother Coffee. My phone number is on my website, so if anybody wants to call me directly, I take orders via email, text message through the website, you know, so basically I’m really easy to find. All you gotta do is look, just search Joe’s Brother Coffee in Google. And you’ll find me.

Fantastic. Thanks for joining today and thank you everybody for tuning in. This is Small Business Stacey, your Small Biz Marketing Specialist here to help you learn how to stop selling by the cup and start selling by the gallon with lucrative catering. Have a great night, everybody. Bye Bye.

About the Author Stacey and Dave Riska

Stacey and Dave Riska, aka "The Cups To Gallons Champions" are on a mission to help independent coffee, smoothie, juice bar, ice cream, dessert and snack shop owners learn how to get into lucrative catering. They transformed their coffee/smoothie business from $500K in debt to a 7-figure profitable business (yes you read that right!) by doing catering. They're the author of "Cups To Gallons where they share the 5-step CATER system that can give you $800 a day (or more!) in profits. Join Stacey, Dave and your fellow small business owners in the FREE Facebook Cups To Gallons Group

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