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Roasters provide pick-me-up to coffee shops

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Last edited 5:03 p.m., Feb. 26, 2018

Several Queen City coffee shops have received a pick me up in the form of new roasting machines, roasters and new business ventures.

At Classic Rock Coffee LLC, lead roasters Chris McGuire and Mason Jones left after four years for Kingdom Coffee & Cycles. The duo now are part-owners of the downtown shop and lead operations.

Kingdom Coffee added its first roasting machine in January and brought McGuire and Jones on a little less than a month ago to ease the transition.

“Adding roasters definitely adds value, or at least perceived value, to any shop, and I think it’s really awesome that we live in a town where we have a lot of people roasting coffee,” McGuire said. “There’s a lot of competition that goes on with that, but thankfully, it seems that Springfield has been able to let everyone carve out their own business.”

In a bit of irony, while at Classic Rock Coffee, McGuire and Jones roasted beans purchased by Kingdom Coffee under the brand of Contender Coffee. Classic Rock Coffee started the Contender line to wholesale to coffeehouses.

Contender Coffee, which operates in shared space with Classic Rock at 1900 W. Sunset Ave., now supplies coffee to the coffee shop inside Springfield-Branson National Airport. Called Rove, it took the place of Heroes after it closed up both shops at the airport and in downtown Springfield.

After losing McGuire and Jones to Kingdom, Classic Rock owner Kent Morrison promoted a longtime barista Olivia Ross to be his lead roaster.

McGuire said Ross watched them roast coffee on her own time, unpaid for six to eight months just to learn.

“Chris and Mason recommended Olivia because of the interest and passion,” Morrison said.

He said Classic Rock also brought on longtime Springfield chef James Clary as the director of food and beverage, to add experience to the restaurant side of the shop.

As more shops go the route of roasting their own coffee in-house, two questions arise: Is the business plan for coffee shops shifting toward needing roasters, and if so, can Springfield sustain so many shops that roast their own coffee?

With Kingdom’s roasting machine addition, now Classic Rock, The Coffee Ethic and Mudhouse are all using their own roasters for their individual shops or to sell beans wholesale.

“I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have a roaster right now, but it certainly does add value to the shop,” Jones said. “The thing is, it’s really hard to do without roasting beforehand. It can take a while to learn.”

Those in the industry point to Mudhouse as the grandfather of local roasting. Others in the market have centered their businesses on the roasting machine.

Brick & Mortar Coffee and Copper Canyon Coffee Roaster have built their business through the wholesale model, and startups No Coast Coffee and Got Your Six Coffee Co. provide coffee subscription services.

Roasting equipment be a pricey investment for those coffeehouses originally built around retail sales.

For Morrison, Classic Rock roasts beans for its 17 franchisees across the United States. For a suitable roasting machine, which he bought four years ago, he spent $75,000. Other roasters, he said, are typically in the $30,000 range.

“For us, and we are a bit unique, it’s all about consistency for our franchisees and our customers,” Morrison said. “We learned there is a large margin for error and a big learning curve, so we do it all out of Springfield for the consistency.”

At Coffee Ethic, operators have been using an in-house roaster for a little over three years and now they produce around 1,000 pounds of coffee beans per month. Head roaster Nathan Murphy said they hired several consultants to help set up the program. He said the biggest benefit of the roaster is the amount of control you have over the coffee being served.

Still, Murphy said it’s a tough call whether a shop should add a roaster or not.

“It’s not a no-brainer, like, ‘Oh, of course, you have to have a roaster.’ There is a lot of effort that needs to be put into it,” he said.

One thing he’s noticed is the communication it opens up with customers. Coffee Ethic’s roasting machine is in full view in the coffeehouse, as is the setup at Kingdom.

“Having the roaster upfront is great because it invites people to learn about what we are doing,” Murphy said. “I think education is going to be the most important thing in the coffee industry going forward. A roaster adds value, but there’s no value if no one understands it.”

As coffee businesses continue to evolve in Springfield, the competition continues to rise, too.

“All of us shops have a friendly competition with each other, and so, I think Springfield is ready for it,” Murphy said. “Being in the Ozarks, there has always been a pride of doing things yourself, so with all of us roasting on our own, that falls into that category.”

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