I know what you’re thinking. After ten years of making coffee in Grand Rapids, what would make us decide to start roasting our own coffee? Why now? With what seemed like a tidal wave of momentum while we planned our second location came the necessity of retaining a loyal and invested staff. Developing our roasting program was an obvious solution, especially during a time of dramatic change for Sparrows. For staff to invest in us, we needed to invest in them. So by creating our roasting program, we have also created upward mobility within our company.
We asked our customers and staff what drew them to Sparrows and built our company values on their responses. Their number one answer? Community. People are drawn to the Sparrows community, which is reassuring for us, since that was our goal when we opened our doors ten years ago. Other answers were respect, kindness, and quality, which have all become values with which we align our business decisions.
So when Julia Lancer, our Director of Coffee, was hired on and suggested we roast our own coffee, we decided to jump right in. You can think of our roasting program as our thank you to our staff, and a thank you to Grand Rapids.
And without further ado, meet Julia Lancer:
Lori: How did you first get into the coffee industry?
Julia: I got my first barista job when I was 17. It was for a small woman-owned shop in my town, which would end up being a common theme in my life.
Lori: What about the coffee industry made you stay in it?
Julia: When I started in coffee, there wasn't a lot of talk about "upward mobility". There was a high turnover since it was viewed as the job you had while you were going to school to become something else. I started to work for larger companies that were just starting to grow. There were a lot of positions opening up for people who wanted to make coffee their career.
Lori: Describe your roasting style. What makes your coffee yours?
Julia: There is an inexplicable amount of science that goes into roasting. It is impossible for me to access that all at once for every roast. I try to balance that science with the intuition I have acquired over the years. Sight, sound and smell factor into every roast for me. I am currently working with a small selection of phenomenal coffees, so I get to know them very well. I am also working in a very small scale which helps me perfect each profile quickly.
Lori: Explain how you come to roast for Sparrows.
Julia: I just asked. You had the idea to open a second shop, and I had the knowhow and resources to bring roasting into the company. Starting a roasting program in-house really goes well with The Sparrows community oriented, "at home" feeling. Developing the program has helped us focus our attention back on our cafes and our devoted customers.
Lori: How do you source your coffee?
Julia: I LOVE MY GREEN IMPORTERS! Since I am not currently at a level where I need to bring in my own green coffee, I have developed amazing relationships with my green importers. The companies I work with are bettering the field in a lot of ways; helping build washing stations and incentivizing the division of microlots to highlight individual farmers. I have a vast amount of knowledge and information available to me at all times. I learn so much with each new coffee we serve.
Lori: Any lessons learned?
Julia: The reward for your dedication will overshadow the difficulty of any daunting task that is put before you.