Honesdale Coffee Roaster Taps Market Between Luxury And Necessity
HONESDALE — Travis Rivera has a bold position. He proclaims that roasters in this century are making better coffee than any other time in history.
The carpenter-turned-entrepreneur opened his own shop, Black & Brass Coffee on Main Street, in 2016.
Rivera, 36, is gunning for Starbucks-level status, or for Starbucks to recognize him as a competitor.
“There’s an incredible amount of competition, but there’s incredible need,” he said. “Part of my mission is to educate people on what a good cup of coffee tastes like.”
He’s been chipping away at that goal, putting his coffee in restaurants, cafes and supermarkets. Within the last couple months Downtown Deli in Scranton started selling it.
He ships to customers around the country and sells it wholesale to grocery stores, cafes and restaurants in the surrounding counties.
You’d expect foot traffic at his Honesdale shop to drop off in the winter months. It’s a town that sees a lot of tourism during the summer.
“January is busier than 2017 July,” he said. “We’ve really challenged the notion that business slows down.”
He’s roasting an average of two tons of coffee monthly, he said, and he predicted that the large batches of Costa Rican beans he had turning in the roaster one frigid Monday last month, which sent earthy scents with baked chocolate notes wafting out into the parking lot, would be all sold by the end of the week.
Honesdale has about 4,200 residents, but Rivera’s anticipating 200,000 customers to walk through the doors this year.
“You can be successful in a small town,” he said.
His growth is part of a patchwork of strengthening independent roasters in the region.
Last year, Electric City Roasting in Throop, probably the first company that proved the region has an appetite for local coffee, last year opened a new retail location, ECR Park, on the edge of the Blakely Borough Recreation Complex.
Veloce cycling shop in downtown Scranton began selling coffee under the flag August Coffee last year too.
August has its own roastery, and its arrival brings the number of downtown shops selling local roasts to three. It joins Northern Light on Spruce Street and Adezzo on Center Street — and they’re all within walking distance of two Dunkin Donuts and a Starbucks.
The downtown blocks are swimming in local, artisan coffee all competing for a slice of the same pie.
Whether there’s enough market share to go around remains to be seen, but Syracuse University professor Elizabeth Wimer, a marketing instructor and self-described coffee aficionado, said companies that roast their own beans and have retail locations selling direct to customers stand to weather shifting tastes a little better than shops that just sell artisan coffee roasted by another company.
Like tobacco and alcohol in the Great Depression, coffee drinkers treat their daily cup like a necessary luxury. They’ll buy it no matter what.
And a better cup from an independent shop costs about as much as one from Dunkin’ or Starbucks.
Grocery stores, institutions with tremendous buying power compared to independent roasteries with a half-dozen employees, now sell more locally roasted coffee.
“For instance Wegmans is committed to carrying a local roaster right alongside of the brands that we’ve seen in Wegmans for the past couple of decades,” Wimer said. “Which is an exciting opportunity for the local roasters because it breaks into new markets — better exposure — and it’s also a great pairing for Wegmans shoppers who expect just a little bit more from their grocery store.”
Diversifying further, for example bottling cold-brewed coffee or selling merchandise and prepared food, is an even better way to stay competitive amid shifting tastes.
Rivera, a former carpenter who grew up in Los Angeles, tiptoes into poetic prose when he describes why people love coffee, and why they’re willing to shell out two or three bucks every morning to get it.
“We’re part of an industry that’s paving the way of decadence,” he said, seated in a corner chair inside his shop.
The sounds of the roaster churning beans echoed from the back of the house, and the proprietor gave wordless, welcoming gestures to the regulars walking in.
“So no longer are we waking up and swallowing swill just to wake up,” he said. “No, we’re creating an experience, a hiatus from the monotony or the chaos of life, a chance to reflect and enjoy and indulge in something that’s a premium product.”
Contact the writer:
@jon_oc on Twitter