By Aprill Emig
Photography by Michelle Truax
Step into Duluth Coffee Company and the first thing you’ll notice is the gleaming silver coffee roaster taking up nearly half the space. The giant machine looks like a very distant relative to your home brewer – think T-rex to chicken level of kin.
But don’t feel intimidated, even though it’s not common to see a commercial roaster in the standard coffee shop, and that’s the point.
“I view us as a wholesale roastery more than I view us as a coffee shop,” says Eric Faust, the founder of the company. “We wanted to have a coffee shop because we wanted to provide a tangible Duluth Coffee Company experience.”
And it’s this experience that brings people through the doors in the first place, and keeps them coming back.
“Great coffee, great experience like always,” a man says while patting Faust on the shoulder. He’s one of many regulars in the store. There were two more times in the span of half an hour this happens to Faust. He always graciously thanks them, with a cup of coffee in his own hand, one of eight he’ll have that day.
It may seem like this new wholesale, local coffee supplier came out of nowhere, but the seeds of what would become the company started in Faust’s adolescence.
“I’ve always been interested in coffee, since I was really young,” Faust says. “My older brother was into it growing up and I thought it was really cool.”
One of Faust’s first jobs was as a barista at a Lakeland coffee shop when he was 16, a position he held at different coffee shops into and through college. Unfortunately, the study of coffee is not a major at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, so he chose the next best thing: English.
“I probably chose English because I liked going to coffee shops and reading books,” notes Faust, who technically got a writing minor, but practically minored in coffee.
“Even though I was going to school for English, coffee was where my heart was.”
He began roasting his own beans in a popcorn popper, purchasing the bright green beans online. It’s no surprise the vision for his future coffee business began right when he graduated college.
After receiving his diploma, Faust took off to St. Paul to join a startup coffee roasting company called Black Sheep. But he came back to Duluth in less than a year, jumping between jobs in the restaurant industry while raising capital for his business. He caught his first break with an entrepreneurial loan, which allowed him to purchase his first commercial coffee roaster.
“I set it up in my apartment and I started selling my own coffee out of the back of my pickup truck,” Faust says. He sold most of his beans at the Barkers Island Farmers’ Market. “I wanted to see if there was a market out there curious about my product.”
And there was. Faust’s approach to coffee is single-origin, sourcing the beans from specific locations at specific times and with specific farmers. Each bag of coffee sold at the shop has a detailed description on the label about where the coffee came from. Faust has even visited some of the farms himself, traveling to Costa Rica and Colombia in the past two years.
“As we grow the business we’re trying to create more intimacy between us and where our coffee is growing,” he says. “Coffee passes through so many different hands and we have this opportunity to connect consumers with growers. We want to shake both hands.”
It’s this detailed approach to coffee that has led to Duluth Coffee Company’s success. The business is expanding into the adjacent storefront in addition to the upstairs space. This will provide room for an even larger roaster, a space for events like coffee releases, and a place to train coffee connoisseurs. But Faust isn’t going to stop there.
“My team knows my ultimate goal is to have our own farm someday,” says Faust, who grows coffee trees in his yard for fun even though they’ll never sprout in the Minnesota climate. “I just want to be involved in every part of the coffee-making process.”
And seeing how far Duluth Coffee Company has come in only five years – from selling bags out of a pickup truck to an expanding storefront selling coffee directly from Central America – it’s easy to imagine they’ll make it there.