When the Stoke Roasted Coffee Co. opened their doors just over two years ago, the timing for opening a small business couldn’t have looked worse. The world economy teetered on the brink and the local economy seemed to be grinding to a sudden halt.
Proprietors Mark Hartley and Conor Hurley have soldiered through it all, carving out a successful niche in the local market. We spoke with them last week at their Big Eddy roasterie to find out what they’ve done to overcome the challenges and remain standing and growing over two years later.
Freshness is their key advantage; most coffee you buy off the shelf is stale, they say. Roasted coffee is a perishable. Roasting twice a week and then delivering coffee with date stamps is one key advantage generic brands and other specialty coffees can’t offer. Other companies don’t date-stamp because “they’re telling people they’re buying stale coffee,” they say.
Freshness is a big component of overall quality, which is also key. They’ve worked hard to refine their roasting techniques and blend, which enhances their quality beans.
“I think there’s a difference between bringing coffee to the masses as opposed to the people,” says Hurley of their greater philosophy as he works their Diedrich roaster. He credits part of their success to using opportunities like the farmers’ market to spread the word around town and generally building awareness about quality ethical coffees in the community.
Ethical, fair-trade, organic coffee has been at the core of their business since day one and they’ve tied into larger programs such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance and Utz Kapeh.
They’ve also worked on building key local business partnerships. Stoke coffee is served and sold in many local shops, cafes and restaurants.
For Hartley and Hurley, the Stoke Roasted Coffee Co. is also about a lifestyle. They both live for backcountry touring. Running your own business gives them an out from shift work and more time in the snow.
Or as Hurley puts it, they want “to create a good product and live in a place where you like living,” — creating a lifestyle that leads to first tracks after a skin up, or fresh tracks on the Big Eddy dike on cross-country skis.
The Stoke offers nearly 10 different blends, mixed from raw beans stacked in large sacks in their small, industrial workspace in the Big Eddy.
They include the Big Eddy Blend, a mix of beans from Africa, Central and South America; or their Eastside Espresso, a five-bean blend from estates and co-ops in Central and South America, Africa and Indonesia.
Their One World original offerings are single-origin coffees, sometimes derived from one farmer alone. Right now they’ve got a direct-trade Ethiopian Nigusie Lemma, described as fruity and clean, and also a organic, full-bodied coffee from Papua New Guinea.
“This coffee is going to make you feel better,” adds Hurley, who has quite a flair for quotable marketing talk.
“Why would you drink a Thunderbird when you could drink a Malbec?” he asks.