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The Commons
Photo 1

Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons

Pierre and Ellen Capy, co-founders of Mocha Joe's in 1991, are about to launch a major expansion of their company into the former warehouse of Cultural Intrigue on Flat Street in Brattleboro.

News

A new era for a legendary coffee roaster

Mocha Joe's buys Cultural Intrigue building for $1 million, a blend of public and private funding

Originally published in The Commons issue #454 (Wednesday, April 11, 2018). This story appeared on page A1.


BRATTLEBORO—Mocha Joe’s is on the move.

The cafe and retail shop, located at 82 Main Street since it opened in September of 1991, is staying put.

But the behind-the-scenes part of the company — the wholesale beanery and coffee-roasting shop — will move to a much bigger location, according to Mocha Joe’s owners Ellen and Pierre Capy.

Last week, the Capys purchased the building at 35 Frost St. for $1 million in the foreclosure auction of Cultural Intrigue, which constructed the offices and warehouse in 2011.

The Capys estimate they will move to the new space in about three months.

But Pierre Capy wants to set the record straight. Although Mocha Joe’s is doing a brisk enough business to support the move, “people think we have $1 million lying around” to buy a building, he said.

The reality is, “well, now we owe $1 million to the bank,” he said. “We were just creative in working on this project."

Jackie Billings, Mocha Joe’s director of strategic growth, noted the company got quite a bit of help from public and private entities, including the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., Brattleboro Savings & Loan, the Vermont Economic Development Authority, and the Windham County Economic Development Program, which manages the funding from Entergy-Vermont Yankee.

Green Mountain Power and Efficiency Vermont also pitched in, Billings said.

The company uses an afterburner on its roof to mitigate the strong coffee aroma resulting from the roasting process. Currently, it’s fueled by propane. GMP and Efficiency Vermont are helping Mocha Joe’s get state financial incentives to switch to an afterburner using electricity and water vapor — which means no more fossil fuels.

“Adam [Grinold] from BDCC helped us a lot,” Pierre said.

This went beyond assisting them with a business plan and hooking them up with funding, he said. “They helped us with fire codes, how to structure a lease, connections with other businesses, the Green Mountain Power program.”

‘Storage is a big deal’

The Mocha Joe’s roasting operation is tucked into 3,000 square feet of space at the back of the building at 183 Main St. It long ago outgrew its location.

Six years after starting the roasting portion of the company in 1994, on Flat Street, the Capys bought their current spot. That was in 2000, and nine years later they began working with an organic coffee grower in Cameroon.

Mocha Joe’s imports 84,000 pounds of green coffee beans from Cameroon alone each year, and they also get beans from other parts of the coffee-bean-growing world. They roast and sell — both prepared in their cafe and wholesale to scores of other shops — about 40,000 pounds of the Cameroon beans a year, and they sell the rest green.

The Cameroon connection “was a turning point for Mocha Joe’s. It gave us access to a unique product, and we could develop a coffee,” Ellen Capy said. “The new building allows us to expand and develop a new source from another country.”

“There’s not much storage space here,” Ellen said. “Storage is a big deal.”

“It doesn’t make sense to bring in 100 bags at a time,” said Billings, who pointed out, “we need to get an entire container to be cost-effective."

Currently, when the beans come into the country on ships, the bags — which typically weigh about 100 pounds — are stored in a warehouse in New Jersey, near the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal.

Colin Grube, production manager and roaster, described the lengthy, disruptive, and nerve-wracking experience of getting those bags of beans from the New Jersey warehouse to Mocha Joe’s roasting shop.

’The fun part comes when it’s snowing’

It all starts with the tractor-trailer driver, who calls the roasting shop “usually when he’s at Malfunction Junction,” to let staff know a delivery is coming, Grube said.

“We have to drop everything and run out to make sure nobody is parked in the loading zone,” he said. Then, after the driver has backed the eighteen-wheeler into the narrow alley between Candle in the Night and the Paramount Building, the roasting shop’s staff come out with a pallet-jack and wheel in the pallets.

Each pallet weighs about 1,500 pounds.

“The fun part comes when it’s snowing,” Grube said.

“And you’re wheeling down a bumpy alley, and you’re getting yelled at by people who are blocked by the truck unloading at the corner of High and Main,” added Ellen.

Because Mocha Joe’s has expanded its wholesale business, those deliveries have increased from a pallet every other week to sometimes three pallets per week.

And it could increase even more, Ellen said: “Having more storage space gives us the chance to buy something great in bulk,” which could save the company money because of typical wholesale incentives to buy in larger quantities.

Moving to 35 Frost Street “allows for growth and fills a current need,” said Pierre. Billings pointed out that in the current space, “we haven’t been able to entertain the idea of growth. This allows us to do that.”

“In the new place, we can fit all the coffee in the warehouse. We can store thousands of bags, and we won’t have to go to the Elizabeth warehouse,” Ellen said.

Pierre pointed out that the warehouse workers often mistreat the large coffee bags, which are hermetically sealed, by using hooks to move them. This breaks the seal and prematurely ages the beans, which can adversely affect the quality.

Now, he said, “the container will arrive exactly as it was packed” in its country of origin.

“We can be more efficient, and have a forklift, so [our workers] aren’t exhausted from moving the pallets of beans,” Pierre said. “We’ll save money in shipping and storage.”

Location, location, location

Staying downtown meets another need.

That 35 Frost Street is within walking distance from downtown, but has more space for deliveries, “was a huge factor,” Ellen said.

“The staff likes it, it’s close to the cafe so we can keep an eye on it, and the cafe manager has access, so they can store supplies here,” she added. “We try to keep the two businesses integrated,” said Pierre.

“This is a community development endeavor,” said Billings, who noted there’s a need for space for smaller manufacturers and other businesses downtown.

Because the new building is much too large for their needs — and they aren’t ready to shoulder its expenses alone — they are working with other businesses to lease part of the campus.

So far, Billings said, Recycle Away, a business-to-business company that supplies large recycling containers, has signed on. A few others are in the works.

“Compatibility is key,” said Ellen. “We have people interested.”

Pierre noted that in the beginning, rumors went around that a brewery or liquor distillery would share the warehouse with Mocha Joe’s, but “there are no plans for an alcohol-tasting center” at 35 Frost Street, he said.

What the plans do include, he said, are public tours and roasting classes.

“People are really interested in how coffee is made.”

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