Roastery Story: Evans Brothers Coffee Roastery
“We’ve faced a lot of hurdles during the decade that we've been in business. There have been growing pains, wearing different hats that maybe we weren't comfortable with. I knew that I loved coffee. I knew that I wanted to roast coffee and prepare great coffee, but running a business is different. I've had to learn a lot along the way. For anyone getting into specialty coffee, learn as much as you can. Develop relationships with industry peers, the coffee farmers, your community, industry leaders. Develop a relationship with CoffeeTec. Use the resources that are there in front of you.”
— Randy Evans
Watch and listen to Randy Evans as he shares his story about creating and sustaining a successful wholesale and retail Coffee Roastery.
It’s a beautiful, crisp February morning at the end of a busy work week. Before we head into the weekend we get to have a coffee date with our good friend Randy Evans of Evans Brothers Coffee. Granted, he’s in Sandpoint, Idaho, and we’re in Austin and Seattle, but thanks to modern technology we can connect and catch up.
We’ve known Randy and his brother Rick for a long time, almost as long as when they first opened the doors of their flagship coffee roastery and cafe in Sandpoint, Idaho, the same relaxed mountain town that CoffeeTec headquarters calls home.
That was in September 2009. Fast forward one decade, two states, three bustling roastery cafes and multiple awards later, and here we are reminiscing with Randy about Evans Brothers’ success and growth over these formative past 10 years. Who would have guessed that a simple question on a chairlift —What do you want to do with your life? — would lead to this? Randy will be the first to tell you that he certainly wouldn’t have guessed it.
Randy and Rick Evans on Schweitzer Mountain’s Chair 6. Photo courtesy of Evans Brothers.
Thanks for joining us today. So, we have to ask: What are you drinking?
Happy to get together and chat! I’m drinking our Ethiopia Guji. Delicious, light roast.
Sounds great! So, you celebrated your first decade in the business back in September. And you recently opened your third location in Spokane, WA. Congratulations!
Thanks! It’s been quite the journey, and it’s an exciting time. We threw ourselves a big party and then not long after opened our Spokane cafe, taking us into two states now. We’re loving our fresh, new space in the historic Wonder building in the heart of downtown Spokane.
We’ve seen pictures and it looks amazing! And of course you opened your second location in Coeur d’Alene in 2017. For those who may not know, would you mind telling us how this whole crazy Evans Brothers journey began once you and Rick formed that fateful pact on Chair 6?
Sure. Yeah, Chair 6 is definitely part of our Evans Brothers folklore! We’ve even named a coffee after it. So, my brother Rick and I are best friends, and even though we hadn’t lived in the same place since high school, we were both at a point in our lives where we were ready to settle down with our young families in a community where we could make an impact. We knew of Sandpoint and its small-town appeal grabbed our hearts. We’re avid skiers and Schweitzer Mountain has great runs. It wasn’t a hard decision!
So, you moved to Sandpoint in 2008 and opened your first roastery and cafe in 2009. That was fast, especially for not knowing exactly what kind of business you wanted to open.
You’re right. It was fast. We knew we wanted to roast coffee and focus on wholesale accounts, and we almost got a space that would let us do just that. But then our friend made us aware of a space next to the historic granary building in our town. It was large enough for both a coffee roastery and a cafe space, and we just knew that was the right place and direction for us. We couldn’t afford a brand new roaster so we started with a used L12 Probat and we were in business.
What’s your mission with Evans Brothers?
We felt there was a niche to be met with more farm-specific, lighter roasted, and sweeter coffees. Beyond that, we wanted to create a long-lasting company that would add tremendous value to our community, something that would connect people with the story of the coffee itself. We wanted to inspire them and give them a sense of place. And, we wanted to create special experiences around a cup of coffee, showcasing the producers and importers that do so much of the real work.
Evans Brothers’ flagship location in Sandpoint, ID. Photo courtesy of Evans Brothers.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
I’d say our challenges are probably similar to what other small but growing commercial coffee roasteries encounter: Having enough space to store our green coffee, production space in general. Also making sure we’re working efficiently with the right equipment.
Yes. Speak more about efficiency, which has so many different applications in this industry.
Definitely. Concerns about efficiency start the moment the coffee plants are planted. Efficient farming practices help ensure quality, yield, and profits. For our business, it means energy-efficient equipment and time-efficient processes. Space, workflow, and storage all need to be thought through from an efficiency standpoint. It’s a critical challenge, and it’s been so important for us to put good systems in place. We’ve been fortunate in attracting great people, but we’ve also learned how to become more efficient in managing people.
The Sandpoint cafe team. Photo courtesy of Evans Brothers.
What are some things you did right?
Good question. We’ve always focused on product quality and having the right equipment. We started with a used L12 Probat but we upgraded to a new Giesen W15 roaster as soon as we could. We haven’t cut any corners, opting to spend up front to stave off as many issues as possible. And our customers see that, and they can taste it.
We also make a point of providing opportunities for our staff to grow and learn. In fact, we just returned from the first Roast Summit in Portland, Oregon. We also make it fun by hosting barista competitions.
One more thing: We really focused on getting our branding right from the beginning, and I’d encourage others starting out to do the same. We went through many iterations of the logo in the design and concept phase, and we almost went with one design but then decided against it at the last minute. It was a hassle but it was worth the extra time and effort to get it right.
Something else you did right is landing Schweitzer Mountain Resort as a client. That must have been exciting!
It was, especially given our deep connection to it. Our kids have practically grown up there, and Rick and I ski as often as we can. Once Schweitzer opened up bidding to regional businesses, we threw our hat in the ring and became the resort’s exclusive coffee roaster starting in the 2013-2014 season. It also doesn’t hurt that we already had a few coffee roasts named after the resort’s ski runs! It’s been great exposure for us, and we love partnering with such an established community icon.
Rick and Randy hit the Schweitzer slopes. Photo courtesy of Evans Brothers.
We hear a lot these days about the third wave coffee movement and “relationship coffee.” What does this mean to you and how you conduct your business?
We travel quite often to source coffee, and we have relationships with about 70% of the coffee farmers we source from. This is the main topic of our blog posts. We also take our employees on origin trips. It’s important for us to tell that story to our customers and have that transparency.
Rick Evans and Miguel Menendez at Finca Las Delicias on El Salvador origin trip. Photo courtesy of Evans Brothers.
We also invest a lot in relationships with our community and customers. Our Sandpoint location is right next to a residential area, so we invested in an afterburner even though there was no ordinance stating that we needed one. We thought it was best to be proactive, and it was truly the best decision. We’ve never gotten a single complaint about the smell or smoke from our roastery. This is definitely another thing we got right from the beginning!
That’s great. And afterburners are not cheap! The community must have been appreciative.
That’s right. They’re expensive, plus it’s expensive to run with natural gas, but making sure we weren’t bombarding the community with pungent coffee fumes was critical to our success.
And that touches on another aspect of relationships. We want to be really community-oriented. We want to be a good neighbor. We conduct roastery tours, public coffee cuppings and tastings, and we’re starting to offer more educational opportunities like home brewing classes.
Most of all, I love that aha moment for our customers and being able to turn them on to something new and exciting that they haven't experienced before. I enjoy preparing them a delicious drink and telling them the story about how the beans got to us, and how that beverage got to them.
Evans Brothers barista brewing the perfect cup of coffee. Photo courtesy of Evans Brothers.
We love that! At CoffeeTec, we like to say we brew relationships as rich as the roast. And it sounds like we definitely both value the importance of connection and community. You also have a strong philanthropy aspect of your business. Tell us about that.
Absolutely. On the producer level, we emphasize long-term partnerships, paying well above the Fair Trade minimum price for quality coffee. We are involved in several Best Cup auction programs, which directly reward the quality efforts of these farmers. And, we participate in various partnerships, like with our Brazil Sertao coffee. Every pound we purchase gives 10 cents back to the women-owned cooperative for social programs in the community.
On the local level, we created a Featured Nonprofit Program to leverage the communal role that our cafes play, with the intent of providing fundraising and awareness for locally based nonprofits. Each month we feature a different organization, and 15% of our sales from a selected fundraising day are donated.
We also support Uryadi’s Village, a Sandpoint-based nonprofit organization bringing support to orphans in Ethiopia. All donations directly fund improved quality of life, including water, sanitation, medical care, education agriculture, and improved economics. A dollar of every bag of Ethiopia coffee we sell goes to Uryadi’s to sponsor several children of the orphanage.
What do you see as upcoming trends in the coffee industry?
Well, it’s hard to predict trends but the third wave coffee movement is still strong. People are focusing more on relationships with coffee producers. We’re seeing more single-origin micro-lots, and also lighter, fruitier coffees that are more representative of the actual terroir of coffee. The relationship and transparency trains will definitely continue.
Of course, a trend that I’d like to see become a greater reality is making sure that our coffee farmers are paid more. They need to be rewarded for their quality efforts. The cost of production does not match what farmers are getting paid, and this needs to change. As a coffee roastery, we can (and do) do our part but bigger food and coffee corporations need to step up and use their resources to lead the charge on this.
Well said, and we totally agree. So, what’s next for Evans Brothers?
We’re not planning on opening any more locations. We want to stay true to our roots in Sandpoint. Instead of expanding our footprint, we want to grow deeper where we’re at. To us, that means keeping a continued focus on quality and just getting better at what we do. We want to expand our mail order business, we want to earn more brand recognition in the industry, maybe win some more awards along the way.
That’s right! You’ve won several awards, haven’t you?
Yes, we received a Good Food Award in 2013 in the coffee category for our Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Birhanu roast. Then in 2015 we placed 3rd in “America’s Best Coffeehouse” competition at Portland Coffee Fest, thanks to all of our awesome customers who voted for us. And then we got another Good Food Award in 2016 in the coffee category for our Kenya Gatundu Karinga AB roast. The coffee category is always highly competitive and gets tougher every year, so it’s a huge honor to repeat. We've also won several awards in the Golden Bean competition.
What advice would you give to those looking to open a coffee roastery?
I’d say to start with the right size roaster. CoffeeTec is a great first place to check when looking for coffee roasting equipment and roastery support. It's an extremely valuable resource, and having Scott in your corner is great. We've really appreciated it over the years.
Know your business model, cultivate relationships with the coffee growers and take as many origin trips as you can. Leverage your financial resources. Taking advantage of financing, like the type that CoffeeTec offers, can be a good way to go. Know when to upgrade. And of course, foster good relationships with your customers. They’re the ones keeping you in business!
Anything else you want to add?
I love what I do. At the end of the day, I can't imagine doing anything else. I love specialty coffee. I love sharing what we do with our communities and am grateful to be in this industry.
So, what’s your roastery story?
We want to know, and we want to be part of it. We’d love to connect with you to see how we can help you grow your coffee roasting business. So much of what Randy discusses and the advice he gives dovetails nicely with our mission, products, and services.
Whatever your needs are, we invite you to check out our consulting services and rates, and then CLICK HERE to contact us today to discuss how we can help you write a happy ending to your roastery story.