If you've ever wondered where the magic of Ruby Roasters' coffee begins, where the stories take shape, and where the rich tapestry of flavors unfolds, you're in for a treat. From their roots in the heart of rural Wisconsin to their mission of capturing the essence of microclimates and moments in time through each cup of coffee, we'll dive into the colorful history, passion, and dedication that define Ruby Coffee Roasters as a uniquely extraordinary coffee experience. So, grab your mugs, and let's explore their remarkable story and the vision that fuels their extraordinary coffee creations.
We interviewed Ruby Coffee Roasters' founder, Jared.
Can you tell me about how you got started roasting coffee initially in your garage? What inspired you to take that leap?
I loved the idea of a rurally-based business that could have a little bit more breathing room to focus on quality and tell our story. I was inspired by a shift happening across the country with craft businesses opening in more unconventional places. Wisconsin is where I was raised so I was especially interested in contributing to the growing food and beverage culture here. Starting in the garage was more a necessity than a choice because my wife and I valued maintaining full control. The lower I could keep costs, the more I ensured our success with the launch.
You mention being guided by the idea of "responsible business that creates value for all involved." How do you put that philosophy into practice in your sourcing, roasting, and operations?
One of the keys to responsible business in our industry is developing strong partnerships with producers so that they know we will be a reliable customer for years to come. This stability allows producers to confidently invest in their production, improve systems, grow their business, support their local communities, and more.
When it comes to roasting, we focus on systems and consistency. The better our systems are, our team can have confidence in their success and accuracy and we can reduce the frequency of mistakes.
In our operations we try to create a workplace that minimizes stress and embraces growth and autonomy while working toward a common goal.
Our customers can trust that we’re going to deliver on our promise to provide them with consistently great, quality coffee that is roasted in a way to ensure easy brewing and a sweet cup.
Your slogan highlights "colorful coffees" that represent specific microclimates and moments in time. How do you go about selecting and sourcing coffees that capture this uniqueness?
We have several ‘color buckets’ that we look to fill on our menu throughout the year. For example, brown for heavier, chocolatey coffees and purple for juicy, berry-like ones. Certain sourcing projects of ours are more aligned with specific flavor profiles so we tentatively pencil in those lots. Then we finesse or modulate within these categories to help build a balanced menu with enough variety to our customers. We try to keep this range consistent while also celebrating seasonality and keeping a lineup of fresh arrivals.
What's the process like for developing your seasonal coffee menus? How often do these change and what factors go into selecting new coffees?
Much of our seasonal menu development is now sorting through various batches or lots from producers that we have been working with for several years. When harvests are strong, we ideally have multiple lots to choose from. As a growing company, we sometimes have room to establish new relationships as well. In that case, we will select coffees that add a new dimension to the menu. For example, this season two people from our team were able to visit producer partners in Costa Rica and brought in our first SL-28 offering from a new relationship there. Our single origin menu is basically constantly changing with limited releases.
How did you decide on Nelsonville as the location to scale up operations back in 2015? What made it a good fit for your expanding roastery?
Nelsonville was one of the closest towns to where we launched in 2013/14. Like other small towns nearby, it was really quiet and most businesses had closed. The days of village banks, markets, etc., had generally passed. I really liked the idea of helping to revitalize a small town while exploring the culture of rural WI, and maintaining that sense of open space and breathing room that we had when we first launched. It was a good fit because it had everything we needed: more storage space, room to expand, low overhead, close access to a post office, easier truck unloading, and more.
Can you share more about the renovation of your Nelsonville space? How did you design it to fit your brand and operations?
I think of our brand as being closely tied to authenticity so we design our spaces to be functional and simple. I don’t want things to be flashy or over the top because I want the focus to be on the coffee, the experience, the location. We first look at what makes a space unique and then we try to celebrate any historical assets as much as possible. One thing we try to add when possible is more natural light. There’s no denying how much good lighting improves a space.
What led you to open your first full café in Stevens Point in 2019? How does that location embody the Ruby brand?
Stevens Point is the hub of activity in Portage County and is about 20 mins west of our roastery. Like many cities of this size, a lot of commerce and culture moved away from the downtown over the past 20 years. We saw an opportunity to contribute to the revitalization and growth of the new downtown and we knew we wanted to be part of that. By 2019, our headquarters ‘tasting room’ had become pretty popular and we heard time and time again from people in Stevens Point that they’d love a spot to visit more frequently. The Point cafe represents a fun growth and expansion of the Ruby brand, where we’ve been able to ingrain ourselves more in the community, involve ourselves more in events, hire more staff, tell our story to more people that visit from near and far.
As you've grown from a garage start-up to a nationally distributed brand, what have been the biggest challenges and lessons learned along the way?
One of the biggest challenges with any business is finding people to build your team with as you scale up. I have been incredibly fortunate to have great people all along the way. I have had to learn how to be a better leader and coworker, including how to give people the space and trust to be successful. Another big challenge is just maintaining the brand’s vision and continuing to pursue quality at the highest level.
What's your vision for the future growth and evolution of Ruby Coffee Roasters in the next few years?
We’re so excited to continue supporting our customers big and small all across the country (and beyond). On the sourcing side, we’ll be adding some new origins to the menu that we can’t wait to share. Soon we’ll be opening our new headquarters cafe in Nelsonville as well. This space will feature some exclusive merch and coffee equipment so we hope it will become a bit of a destination for regional folks. Beyond that, lots of exciting refinements and some new projects that we’ll be sure to share on social media!
How does Ruby Coffee leverage Steeped’s innovative brewing method to create a unique coffee experience for your customers?
I will often highlight the value of having the grind and dose dialed in for a customer. People focus on the convenience, which is great, but it’s almost more valuable to give someone a properly ground, fresh, properly dosed coffee serving. Many people mess up too many variables at home all at once to understand the impact of any specific one. Steeped helps isolate several of those.
Could you share how integrating Steeped has contributed to Ruby Coffee’s growth and enhanced your business as a whole?
I believe Steeped helps convey the perception that Ruby is a really established company with good systems, good marketing, etc. Having that extra layer of professionalism is good for attracting customers of all sizes and scopes.
Celebrating the vibrant spirit of Ruby Coffee Roasters has been a flavorful journey from start to finish. As we wrap up this exploration of their rich history, passion, and dedication, it's evident that every cup brewed by Ruby Roasters is more than just coffee—it's a tale of dedication, a tribute to microclimates, and a snapshot of moments in time. With each sip, we taste the essence of their journey, reminding us that great coffee is not just a beverage; it's a passionate endeavor, a colorful experience, and a delightful adventure. So, here's to Ruby Coffee Roasters—where the love for coffee meets a commitment to quality, and where every cup tells a story worth savoring. Cheers to the artisans behind the blend and the enthusiasts who sip along, making each day a little brighter, one flavorful cup at a time.