Dear Roasterie Friends and Family,
Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that this letter finds you well and happy. While we're living under the same dark and sometimes ominous clouds as everyone else, we're still seeing and experiencing lots of things to be excited about.
And speaking of excitement, Sophia just turned 6 months old and is a total chunky-lunky. She and Terry were both exactly 18 lbs. 13 ounces @ 6 months but Sophia is 2 inches shorter. She is an absolute precious bundle of joy; totally happy, content and curious. She's riveted on Terry's every move and together they're keeping us running. Somehow my mom managed 10 kids but it's a mystery to me as to how she did it! Terry loves his preschool at St. Peter's and he continues to amaze us with how fast he is learning. I just feel bliss, happiness, wonder and gratitude with the kids. When I was little, six or seven of us kids would run and jump on mom and dad's bed on Sunday mornings and it would just be chaos. This is becoming a weekend tradition at our house now and it's one of my favorite things in life. Terry talks to Sophie as if she's a grownup, admonishing her if she gets too close or grabs his hair. She most definitely is going to be the ornery one of the two.
It was a busy fall and we kicked it off with MyBlend (see www.theroasterie.com) at the end of October. This is our new, fun adventure where coffee lovers can create their very own custom blend, just like we've done for hundreds of coffee shop owners and professional chefs. It's been great getting to know hundreds of new people across the country and we're thrilled with the response. They're blown away with how accurate their blends are; and being able to name it, insert a customized logo and/or download a photo to the label has been a blast for them. We have big plans for this exciting product and will keep you in the loop.
A week after the MyBlend launch we threw a 15 Year Anniversary party at our plant and had hundreds of friends and customers help us celebrate. Many of our very first customers from as far back as 1993 attended: it was like a homecoming. Eddie Delahunt and his band filled the plant with beautiful Irish music and it was probably the best party that we've ever had. Our friends at 75th St. Brewery brewed up the 2nd Annual Batch of "Up All Nitro", a combination of their awesome beer and our Nitro Espresso. We received hundreds of compliments about this year's batch and are already looking forward to next year.
Costa Rica Reunion
The day after our party, Normy, Terry and I flew to Costa Rica to attend my high school class reunion. It was so special that it is hard to describe. We went to my classroom and Terry sat in my old desk. We toured the school and I showed them where I had played basketball, where I had hung out with my friends, etc. The friends that took me coffee picking the first time were there and it was just surreal at times. It was where the seed for The Roasterie was planted and it felt like going back in time, as if I had one foot in today and one foot in the past. It was fun listening to the women who almost verbatim said the same thing that my classmates said at my high school reunion in Iowa said this summer: the women were better looking and the guys looked old, fat and bald! No comment on either frontJ.
Predictions, Cost Savings
This summer oil hit $147 or so a barrel and most people, including me, predicted that it would go to $200. We were getting killed on delivery charges and implemented a 'fuel surcharge' to mitigate part of the cost increases. Well, 90 days later gas went from over $4 to less than $2 and we dropped the fuel surcharge immediately. We're keeping our fuel-saving habits and bracing for the next cost spiraling to occur...but not making a single prediction!
We had always toyed with the idea of putting a heat-exchanger on the roasters and finally experimented with it this fall. It worked!!! We added 10 degrees in the roasting area and it's been both a success and a model to follow in the rest of the company. The net result is several thousand dollars a year in fuel savings and we've only just begun. We have 40,000 square feet of roof that could potentially make us energy independent with solar panels.
A few months ago I heard someone say "there is a recession happening and we're choosing not to participate". I shared this with my staff and explained that I knew what he meant...that he wasn't going to wallow in the negative news and was going to charge forward and focus on the positives. But there is a recession and our business simply is a reflection of all of our customer's businesses. While we don't wallow in doom and gloom, we certainly acknowledge that many of our customers are really facing some tough sledding and we want to do everything that we can to help out. Ignoring it won't make it go away.
This weekend my wife was telling a friend of hers how I didn't want to buy a new set of bedroom furniture but wanted to refinish it instead. Her friend said "You can take the boy off the farm in Iowa but you can't take the farmer out of the boy", or something like that. We run our company in much the same way. We try to reuse everything that can be reused or recycled. We try to not spend money where it will not increase product quality, customer service or speed. We want to be as recession resistant (not recession-proof) as we can. Every penny that we can take out of the system is one more that we can invest in quality and service. While this has been part of our culture since the beginning, there is nothing like a crisis to help one implement necessary changes. And we want every idea that you guys would like to share or propose. Over the years, our customers have been the source of many of our best ideas.
Our new mantra is "lean and mean". These past few years we've resisted many opportunities for various expansion ideas. At the time, saying 'no' was very difficult and we were accused of being overly conservative more than once. But I think that it's paid off and we've heard from lots of suppliers who tell us that they appreciate us paying our bills early and that they are struggling in their collecting from many roasters around the country. We're rock solid and have positioned ourselves to weather a severe storm, expand cautiously or take advantage of new opportunities should they arise. The analogy that I used with my staff this summer was of the settlers on the prairie both farming and preparing for the winters. Those who didn't chop wood and store food died; period. Here in the Midwest we're only 4-5 generations away from those times and I'm convinced we still have this 'get ready for winter' in our genes. Having heard that 'frugal is the new cool' recently made me smile; it's the first time in memory where I feel that I'm not out of sync with the latest fad. But to be clear, I see a huge difference between being 'cheap' and being 'frugal'. We gladly plunk down our money for anything that can improve quality or service. But we'll go recycled or used for lots of 'backstage' stuff where it doesn't make a difference.
Good To Great
I mentioned in my last letter that we continue to work our way through this book and it has helped us stay focused on what we do best; find the best coffee in the world, roast it the best way known to man, and get it to the customer as fast as is physically possible. This is what we've stuck to these last 15 years and where we're sticking for the next 15. Watching some of the football playoffs reminded me of this book and how we've built the company; at the end of the day, it's all in the detail and the execution. The football teams who came out on top were the ones who were better at the 'blocking and tackling'. We're relentless in our focus on speed and customer service and never want to let up. I guess our anniversary and the economic crisis have caused us to do some heavy reflecting and a great deal of self-introspection. We went through a 3 month strategic planning process that was at the same time stressful, exciting and validating. We aren't full of false bravado and we're not having any midlife crises. We continue to focus on that top 10% of the market who cares about quality and do everything that we can to get it to them (you) as efficiently and affordably as we can. Lots of blocking and tackling but if you love the game, it's all good. But the key is loving the game. I'm reminded of teasing my sisters about not wanting to play outfield while growing up; so, we learned to start them at outfield so that they couldn't bat and then quitJ. Recruiting is much about this and Disney is great at it. They found that nearly everyone loved their 'front stage' but the line of folks who want to deliver that service, the 'backstage', is much, much shorter. In our case, there is no shortage of folks who want to go to origin (coffee countries) or manage donations; but the day in and day out of sweating the details (blocking and tackling) are a little like my sisters wanting to bat but not play outfield.
The World Belongs To Those Who Show Up
Last month Terry and I attended the memorial service of Lauren Chapin, longtime local food critic for the Kansas City Star. It was a brutally cold Saturday and we had to park in a cemetery a long ways from the church as there were hundreds of people who attended. Afterwards, Terry had the hundred questions that only a 3 year old can have and they were difficult to try to answer. Lauren was one year and one day older than me and she reminded me of life's uncertainty and how to make the most of the time that we have. While I've always had a sense of urgency about things...everything, my kids have enhanced it even more. Lauren set an example, a great Midwestern example, of taking advantage of every new opportunity and not wasting a minute of valuable time on anything where she couldn't learn something new or experience some new adventure. Lauren 'showed up' to whatever was in front of her and her curiosity served her, and all of us, extremely well. We are going to miss her.
A good friend visited Rwanda last year and was transformed by what he saw. He visited several times and invited me to go along on his latest trip in November, and it was one of the most memorable trips that I've made in my entire life. The country is beautiful and is as clean as Disney World. There is a sign at the airport letting visitors know that plastic bags are banned (the entire country, not just the capital)! And you can traverse the country without seeing these bags, or any other garbage or litter, anywhere! This is symbolic for the pride Rwandans have in their country...and in their coffee. We found extraordinary coffee and farmers that we'll have long term partnerships with (more about one of them below). But we found a spiritual people who exemplify goodness, hard work, forgiveness and obviously reconciliation more than any other people that I know. Today Rwanda is one of the safest countries on the planet and our own driver said that since 1994, he's never been asked for a bribe or payoff in any way. Rwandans pride themselves on this aspect of their culture and it's paying off in their quest for developing an infrastructure and raising the standards of living. They are a strong, proud people who are not looking for a handout or money; they're looking for teachers, mentors and entrepreneurs. Offering their extraordinary coffee is a no-brainer. Helping Rwandan entrepreneurs with their ventures is going to be pure joy. We'll keep you in the loop and hope to offer ways to get others involved. A project that we're working on will enable folks to spend a week or two working with school children, for example. A great book to read for those interested is "The Land of Ten Thousand Hills".
We all know how small of a world it is and it seems that the older I get, the smaller it becomes. While in Rwanda, we were invited to a reception at the ambassador's house and it turns out that they've been Roasterie fans and customers for yearsJ! He is from St. Louis and his wife from St. Joe...her parents from Iowa. I met the president and he was trained at the college in Leavenworth and fondly remembers Kansas City barbeque. We are really jazzed on a variety of levels and hope to 'show up' as the opportunities present themselves. Trips like this are reminders of why we do what we do.
We absolutely loved the holidays and were sorry to see them go. We had our company party at our little place in the woods and presented our annual staff awards. We have five awards and they are voted on by our peers. This year Nathan Kurtz, our plant manager, won "Associate of the Year". It was a beautiful gathering and everyone in his family, including his 2 week old daughter, was there to witness it. We have the best, most solid staff that we've ever had and as I said that night, I wish we had an award for everyone as they each deserved one.
Carla's brother Elie came back from Dubai to join us for Christmas. He helped Terry put cookies and milk under the tree and sprinkle reindeer food outside. He filmed Christmas morning as Terry shot from bed like a cannon, running to the fireplace to try to steal a glance of Santa Claus escaping up the chimney. It was the best Christmas since I was a child and we can't wait for the coming years when Sophie will join in. It was bliss and we hope that the holidays were just as special for you all.
This spring we'll be rolling out a few new initiatives and one of them in particular is something that we've been working on for several years. For now, we've dubbed it "coffee shop in a box" and we hope that it will be a valuable training and educational tool for you. We will be reaching out to many of you to see if you want to help in our beta testing. It will be a free service for our customers and we're very excited about it.
A new and totally revamped website is also in the works. We've collected tons of ideas and suggestions from you and there will be lots of new products, services and fun. Coming this summer to a theatre near youJ.
We're finalizing plans for expanding The Roasterie Café in Brookside and our folks there are just doing a phenomenal job. They work hard, have fun and take care of our customers, 364 days a year.
We continue to make great progress on our ISO 9001 initiative and should be certified before summer. While largely invisible to the outside world, it will help us deliver world-class quality and service every single day.
From our Chief Coffee Officer, Mr. David Hermann. "We have some exciting new additions to our exclusive Limited Reserve line of delicately air roasted coffees. Currently available is an example of a very rare Indonesian that isn't available anywhere else. White Eagle Limited Reserve Sulawesi is an organic, Fair Trade and shade grown certified coffee and is unique because it comes from the most remote part of the Toraja region. It takes our producer nearly four days on horseback to transport this exclusive crop to the nearest dirt road. This coffee is an heirloom varietal which means that it comes from the same coffee trees that were originally planted in Sulawesi by Dutch settlers. Trees with this pure of a lineage can only be found in parts of Ethiopia. This helps to accentuate the clean herbal flavor profile that makes this the "jewel" of Toraja. Subtle cedar and cinnamon spice tones accentuate its mild acidity and smooth buttery body; a must have for any coffee fanatic!
Coming soon to our Limited Reserve line is another very exciting coffee. Recently The Roasterie participated in the 2008 Rwanda Cup of Excellence (COE) program. Rwanda represents one of the most promising up-and-comers in the specialty coffee community. The coffee that we have purchased comes from a small estate called Buf Coffee. Run by a dynamic woman, Epiphanie Mukashyaka, our lot was built from only an "A1" or "first sort" selection through a traditional process of flotation channel sorting new to Rwanda. Expect a coffee that is sweet and elegant; a sugary acidity balanced by subtle ripe cherry and black current notes. These deep fruits compliment a super smooth, long and syrupy finish. This is a coffee that will truly be missed once it has sold out!"
Well, it's time for me to close. We truly appreciate your support and look forward to any and all suggestions as to how we can improve our offerings and our service to you. Thank you for helping make this an incredibly awesome 15 year adventure. Our staff takes special pride in serving you and strives to get better at it every single day. Thank you and Godspeed in the year ahead.