The city's oldest coffee roaster is still busy pioneering.
Who doesn't like a cup of coffee with a slice of birthday cake? This year, Stauf's Coffee Roasters celebrates 30 years since the company launched its first store in Grandview. Since its grand opening in 1988, the company has expanded to five shops—including new locations in Franklinton and the Discovery District—and acquired the Cup O' Joe brand.
Company president Mark Swanson says the secret to its success is Stauf's commitment to roasting. While many stores sell coffee roasted elsewhere, Stauf's keeps the process in-house, the first to do so in Columbus. “When you first get introduced to artisan bread, I think the first thing people notice is freshness,” Swanson says. “Coffee is the same way. … The first thing they're going to notice is it's fresh.”
For founder Tom Griesemer, the decision to start Stauf's three decades ago began with something as simple as a cold cup of coffee. After ordering a cup from one of the few area shops at the time, Griesemer sat down in his car and took a sip. “It was bone-cold, as if they had brewed it a long time ago and forgot to turn the heating plate on,” Griesemer says. “And it clicked right then: ‘Oh, folks here don't know anything about coffee.' ”
Fortunately for Central Ohio coffee nuts, Griesemer knew whereof he sipped: After growing up in Columbus, he headed to California to begin his college career. “I saw the first Peet's Coffee in Berkeley, before coffee was a thing anywhere else,” Griesemer says. “It always struck me as incredible, the line that they had, kind of the vibe.”
After returning home, Griesemer took a succession of restaurant jobs—including at Holiday Inn on the Lane—but coffee continued to beckon, so he accepted a position at Colonial Coffee Merchants. “They had struggled since their inception,” he says. “I ran that two years and got rid of all their debt in the first year and made them their first-ever profit in the second year.”
Yet Griesemer had his own ideas—namely, roasting his own coffee—and when his offer to purchase 51 percent of Colonial was rejected, he set up his own shop in Grandview.
“I searched all over Columbus,” he says. “The first priority I had was to go fairly far away from Colonial Coffee Merchants, because I didn't want it to look like I was trying to prey on their customer base.”
The location on Grandview Avenue offered several advantages, including a 25 mph speed limit. “There was a traffic light right in front of my store, so that everybody that had to stop [for] the light would look right at our store,” Griesemer says. “And there was parking behind.”
Within two months, he says, Stauf's was operationally profitable; although the roasting effort required a large investment, the company found ways to get the most out of each barrel. “I started with maybe 15 barrels of coffee, but four or five of those barrels were blends,” Griesemer says. “I only bought perhaps six or eight types of coffee and ended up with 15 offerings.” Today, Stauf's sells about 70 kinds of coffee. Blends include breakfast and organic espresso, while flavorings range from apricot cream to cherry cordial.
Stauf's sets itself apart long before the coffee is poured into your cup. High-grade beans are shipped from farms across the globe, including farms in Central and South America, Southeast Asia and Africa, among others. At some of the farms, beans come from micro-lots—particular plots of land that can produce unique coffee.
“If you can imagine [coffee growing] on a volcano in Guatemala at 6,000 feet, there are many different microclimates,” Swanson says. “Think of soil and sun and shade, rainfall, temperature changes—all of those things combine just like any other agricultural product—and so you'll find parts of your farm produce something really special.”
The product is handpicked and then processed. “They take the cherry off the seed, which is the coffee bean,” Swanson says. Beans are then sorted with machines and by hand, bagged and shipped to Stauf's. “Our hands are on it. We pick it up, we roast it, then we send it to stores,” he says. “A lot of human touch goes into this product.”
Coffee shops far and wide have taken note of Stauf's quality. Within one year of opening in 1988, Griesemer says, Stauf's had its first wholesale account: King Avenue Coffeehouse. In those days, the company developed its wholesale business the old-fashioned way: Swanson headed to the library, identified cafés or coffee shops in phone books and rang up the businesses.
In 2000, Stauf's opened a 7,000-square-foot roastery to service more than 300 wholesale clients as well as the Stauf's locations that don't have their own roasters. “We deliver to ourselves three times a week,” Swanson says. “The coffee is rarely much more than 48 hours old.”
In addition to Stauf's Grandview, local shops are in German Village (its second-oldest location) and the North Market. Two shops have opened in Franklinton and the Discovery District in the last two years, neither of which were part of the overall expansion plan. A sixth location is expected to open next year at 1334 Neil Ave. inside a historic church just north of Victorian Village.
The Franklinton shop, which opened last year in the Columbus Idea Foundry, is industrial-chic, an aesthetic departure from the brand's more traditional, low-ceilinged café in Grandview. The location, however, continues Stauf's tradition of joining communities on the ascent. “We were in Grandview when it was sleepy,” Swanson says. “We were in German Village before really anything like that was happening.”
While Swanson admits that Franklinton may be a few years away from providing Stauf's with consistent traffic, he is happy to get in on the ground floor—especially in a spot like the Idea Foundry. “Most of the stuff that is in that store was built there,” he says. “And Compton Construction put it together.”
In May of this year, Stauf's became part of the Discovery District when it opened a café in the View on Grant apartment complex. “It was a great amenity for the people who live there, but we [also] have Columbus State [Community College],” Swanson says. “I was there this morning. It was packed.”
Meanwhile, fans of Cup O' Joe, which Stauf's bought in 1999, can also expect an evolution. “I've hired Sidecar Creatives to help us freshen up the Cup O' Joe brand,” says Swanson, adding that the shop in Clintonville—one of two remaining locations—will be remodeled. “Our plan is to make it more of what it started out as—a dessert house,” Swanson says.
Any way you cut it—or brew it—the company has come a long way from its Grandview origins. In the process, Stauf's has helped turn Columbus into a coffee-savvy city. “I always wanted the customer to have a full ability to interact with the product,” Griesemer says. “We train the customers what it is they're responding well to, or poorly to, and then we help them branch out, staying within their taste preference, so that they can become their own connoisseur.”