5 Years of Sagebrush Coffee, A Love Letter
“If you’re going to do it, do it well.”
My husband Matt had just finished telling me about his newest home-based business idea: Selling fresh-roasted coffee online. It was October of 2012, and this was not the first business proposal he had brought to me. None of the other ideas had panned out or even been seriously pursued. Matt, like most of us, tended to be a good starter but not a great finisher, and while I wouldn’t say I had grown weary of hearing about the latest scheme, I would say that I was slightly suspicious.
There was one big difference between his newest idea and the others: He had a product. Matt had been roasting coffee out of our home for about 3 years and had completely spoiled me for any other coffee. Anything besides my husbands home roast had become, to me, bitter, stale, flavorless, burnt, and simply not worth my time or money. As friends and family members had begun sampling Matts coffee he was hearing more of the same. Once you’ve heard “This is the best coffee I’ve ever had!” a few times, you start to wonder if there would be people willing to pay money for ‘the best coffee’, leading to our current conversation.
His argument was compelling. We could get a tax break on the materials, including his new ‘fancy’ (read: expensive) roaster. He had experience with building websites and drawing in customers. Registering a business with the state of AZ was relatively easy and inexpensive. My reservations were minor, but I made it clear that I didn’t want it to be another half-baked idea. I wanted him to try. I wanted him to succeed. I encouraged him and said, “If you’re going to do it, do it well.”
In less than a month, our paperwork was filed and on November 16th, 2012, Sagebrush Coffee, Inc was officially a registered business with the state of Arizona. By Christmas time, the website was up and running, and we had begun selling coffee to friends and family. We quickly bought a second roaster, bringing our output to a whopping 2 pounds an hour. On the day after Christmas, we sold our first bag of coffee to someone we did not personally know. While the business was far from lucrative, much less profitable, it was exciting to see rewards as a result of our labor. We weren’t getting there fast, but it felt like we were going places.
And then we nearly let Sagebrush Coffee die out altogether.
It is easy to forget how all-consuming the moving process is until you find yourself, once again, in the thick of it. From January to May of 2013 we sold our house on Sagebrush Court, and moved twice, finally landing in our dream home. Among many other things, our new home had space and resources to enable us to actually grow the business. Unfortunately, by the time the dust settled, the website was out of date and orders had dried up. However, Matt and I were in agreement. We wanted to give Sagebrush Coffee a fair chance. Instead of a well earned period of rest, Matt buckled down to many late nights, re-vamping the entire website, and again launched Sagebrush Coffee to the public in July 2013.
The orders began trickling in. In November of that year, we had sold enough coffee to order our first "big" Sonofresco roaster and had it installed in the garage. The decision to get a second large roaster that spring was an easy one, with a 1-pound roaster to follow by fall of 2014. All packaging moved from the kitchen out to the garage, eventually outgrowing even the garage and moving into the spare bedroom. We moved quickly from “Babe, do you mind running these 3 packages to the Post Office today?” to setting out multiple bins of packages for USPS to pick up every day. Matt roasted most nights and every morning, and I would bag and package the coffee and tea orders daily.
It became clear by 2015 that we could no longer house Sagebrush Coffee in our home. Matt desperately wanted to avoid roasting through another Arizona summer, where 100-degree mornings were normal, brutal, and led to terribly inconsistent roasting conditions. We received a crash course in commercial real estate as we began an earnest search for a storefront near our home with air conditioning, a natural gas line, and a low price point. We eventually found a great location, and owners that ‘got’ what we were doing and were willing to help us get started. Unfortunately, every step took time, and Matt was stuck roasting in the garage through another summer. We eagerly waited for flooring, cabinets, and a massive exhaust hood to be installed. We designed and organized the space, and painted the entire 1500 Square foot space ourselves the week after Thanksgiving. In the first week of December 2015, without missing one day of roasting (Christmas is a busy time at Sagebrush!) we began roasting and running production out of our new business home.
These last 2 years have been thrilling. We’ve hired Zoe and Elisa, and Matt's mom Dara comes in every week to help make bags. We are so thankful for them and thankful that we are in a place to hire help! Our kids help at the shop nearly every weekend. Our family calls the shop our ‘Clubhouse’ and we’ve spent lots of family time here, as well as hosted many ministry opportunities with our church in the Sagebrush Shop. In August of this year, we’ve opened our doors to the public, allowing people to buy beans and roasting equipment directly from us, as well as sample our delicious coffee. We have also launched our 3rd business, Sagebrush Unroasted, hoping people will fall in love with fresh roasted coffee and the home roasting hobby that got us started.
It is humbling, and very hard to believe, when we evaluate how far we have come as a business in the last 5 years. It has been a lot of hard work. But we know we haven’t done it alone. When I think back on all the friends and family members who have supported us along the way it nearly brings me to tears. From plugging our product online, to packaging coffee, teaching us about photography, helping move loads upon loads of materials from our home into the new shop or just stamping bags when we were in over our heads. Many have helped without thought of reimbursement, we have been beyond blessed. Trust me, you do not soon forget the kindness of friends.
Yet, for all the amazing help we’ve received there is one person who is the backbone of Sagebrush Coffee. This business wouldn’t be what it is, it wouldn’t even BE, without my husband Matt. I have heard people say, often when they hear what we’ve been doing with Sagebrush, that they’ve always wanted to start their own business. And I don’t blame them! It is exciting! It’s very rewarding. But the things many of us don’t want to do, such as stay up late nearly every night, manufacture product in both scorching and freezing weather, give up personal time and vacation time and sleep, those are the things most people can’t see. Those are the less exciting and less rewarding parts of owning a business. Those are the things we have to do, to watch the things we want to do unfold and be successful.
We started this business on a bit of a whim. In our wildest dreams, we never could have imagined ourselves where we are today. Yet, here we are, 5 years later, still plugging along. It is God's kindness to us. It is love and help from friends and family. It was lots of late nights and hard work. Most people don’t understand or believe what they can’t see. I have seen it all. It does not go unnoticed.
Matt, you have done what was needed, more than was required, and you have done it well. Congratulations, babe.
- Jenna Kellso