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To say that Kurt Stauffer, owner of ROWSTER New American Coffee, has a passion for coffee is an understatement. The self-proclaimed “coffee nerd,” shop owner and founder of upcoming Regular Coffee has a connection to roasting coffee that dates back to 2000, when a friend showed him pictures of her father’s coffee farm in Puerto Rico.
“These pictures just made a spark in me. I thought, ‘Wow! This is really exciting! I’d love to learn how to do that!’ So, that’s how it started. I began learning about roasting coffee and doing it myself at home,” says Stauffer.
After winning a bid on EBay for a large commercial coffee roaster, Stauffer’s hobby took off. “I set the thing on my back porch and would roast coffee late at night when the neighbors were asleep.” A few years of tinkering later, Stauffer came to an enlightening discovery.
“I couldn’t believe how amazing the coffee tasted when I would roast it. Why does coffee not taste this good when I buy it at the store? It was just a nagging thought that I couldn’t get out of my head,” Stauffer says.
And ROWSTER New American Coffee was born. The hobby that spun out of control now became a running business, a project Stauffer enjoyed but that provided financial challenges.
“I never wanted to have bank loans or owe my family money,” says Stauffer. “I wanted it to be self-sustaining, which is really rare in business. A lot of people think that you go to the bank, get a loan, build it, flip the open sign and you are business.” Stauffer had to do things differently to be successful while taking risks.
“Businesses are successful because they don’t do it that way. They do it the hard way, they keep their overhead low. I’m going to do business that same way. I wanted to build everything as I went and as I earned it. It’s a huge challenge, and I don’t think many people could do that,” Stauffer says as he gestures around his shop that houses an eclectic mix of repurposed furniture and décor.
Stauffer embraces the opportunities that arise out of challenges.
“It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see young people come in who think that they are interested in business and then turn around and own it and become a passionate person who really cares about what they do in life. To see people go from showing up and putting in the time to people that really care and want to be a part of something, an idea, a movement gives me a lot of pride,” says Stauffer.
Saying you are the best and actually proving that you are the best are two different things. Last year Stauffer won a coffee roasting competition at the Roaster Guild Retreat.
“I always felt that we were very expert in roasting but I had no way to prove it. But now I know that I can roast coffee better than anyone in the country, and that’s pretty cool,” Stauffer says.
“We’ve tasted coffee from all over the world that is supposedly great. We know what quality coffee is and we’re confident that what you can get here is as good as you can get anywhere,” Stauffer continues.
According to Stauffer, it’s the environment that provides the ultimate atmosphere for new businesses.
“I think Grand Rapids has a lot going for it that supports local businesses. It’s really like a big laboratory of innovative and exciting businesses. I think this is going to become even more common in the future,” says Stauffer.
Stauffer's new project, Regular Coffee, will take the fuss out of coffee. The new brand will be available through online subscriptions and mailed directly to customers' homes. It will offer only one product: regular coffee.
“Regular will allow us to get quality coffee to more people who will enjoy it and appreciate it for what it is. Simple, regular coffee. We thought, if we could utilize the existing infrastructure that we have in ROWSTER, if we could package it differently with higher quantities and a higher commitment, we could get it to a wider audience and drastically lower the prices,” Stauffer says.
“It’s going to be a bit like an experiment. If we get 100 people to sign up, that’s fine. If we get a million, we’re in trouble,” Stauffer jokes. “But it’s just a fun way to get more people great coffee. If you look at a pyramid, the top is the best quality of anything. For us it's coffee. Most business happens in the middle with mass production,” says Stauffer. “We don’t want to do mass production, but we do want to have a little more efficiency. We are good at branding and packaging already, so why not just create a new brand that’s cheaper and more interesting?”
Regular Coffee recently earned $5,000 from Start Garden, which will help in more ways than funding.
“Regular Coffee will provide opportunities for all of these super-talented people that are constantly moving out of Grand Rapids,” Stauffer says. “I mean, we’ve done business with them. They are our customers, and they’ve come in for years. They are amazing artists and writers and filmmakers. They are educated, born and raised in West Michigan. They end up moving to LA and becoming wildly successful. That paradigm is going to continue, and in one way it’s great because kids should travel, but let’s give them something they can do here, something that will be bring them back later or give them a reason to stay,” says Stauffer. “Start Garden is a broadening of ideas.”
“My whole goal in business is not so much to own everything but to grow and share and bring in people, so everybody can have a piece of what’s happening. That’s the only way to make this, or any business for that matter, successful,” says Stauffer.
And as for the future of ROWSTER and Regular Coffee?
“We have a great team of people here and I think we can do anything. We could make something, we could manufacture something, it doesn’t matter,” Stauffer says. “We are just going to keep our eyes open to new opportunities as they come along. There are ideas, but you can’t force it. You have to be open. Opportunities will roll out perfectly when its time.”
I am a senior at GVSU studying public relations and writing. I will graduate in the spring of 2013 and hope to pursue a career in PR and media relations.