JavaVino is a real example of the true “seed to cup” experience. In fact, it is pretty much as “seed to cup” as it gets. The business’ owners get their coffee directly from their family farm in Nicaragua. It gets shipped to Atlanta, where it is carefully roasted and served. We sat down with the owners Heddy Kuhl and her husband Steve Franklin for the interview. Check it out:
CoffeeShopr: Why is it called JavaVino?
H.K. It is called JavaVino because my husband really wanted to do a bar, and I really wanted to do coffee. My husband is a huge wine lover and after many discussions we decided that merging the two ideas would work well. So we did “Java” for the coffee, and “Vino” for the wine.
CoffeeShopr: In your opinion, is it something unique to combine coffee and wine in our industry?
H.K. I thought so from the beginning, but I am seeing it more and more these days. The bad part is that it makes really long days because you are open early for the coffee and late for the wine. However, at the same time it gives you two different profit margins, so when the coffee part isn’t doing well, you can always leverage the wine.
CoffeeShopr: How and why did you decide to open the business?
H.K. Well, my family has been in the coffee industry since 1886. I didn’t think I would go into the family business though. I became interested in it maybe fourteen years ago when we were living in Europe, and I really loved the coffee houses there. So that’s how I saw something that I wanted to do with the coffee because I didn’t want to manage the farm.
CoffeeShopr: How did you train to be in coffee business?
H.K. Well, our experience in Europe was more from a consumer perspective. Out training came when we moved back to the US. My husband took a job with a coffee chain and then he moved to Nicaragua for a couple of months to learn about the coffee farming process there. And then, when he came back, we applied for our small business loan.
CoffeeShopr: Please tell us about your farm.
H.K. The name of our family farm is called Salva Negra, it means a “Black Forest” in Spanish. My mother is from Germany, and it reminded her of Schwarzwald, which is a forested mountain range in southwestern Germany. It is a 1500 acre farm: 500 acres is coffee, 500 acres is virgin rain forest, and then the 500 acres are the mountain range and the cattle farm. Salva Negra is a fully sustainable micro tourism coffee farm, where they offer hiking, horseback riding and a restaurant. The coffee is in the rainforest, so it is completely shade grown. We buy the beans directly from our parents, ship them to Atlanta and roast ourselves.
CoffeeShopr: What kind of feedback do you get from people about your “seed to cup” experience? Do they care?
H.K. We have two different customer bases. One doesn’t care; they just want it to taste good. They care more about what is in the cup versus where it comes from. However, I would say that the majority is intrigued and really enjoys our connection with the farmer. They don’t really understand where their coffee comes from until they strike up the conversation of what the “seed to cup” means. It is becoming trendier now for people to want to know where their food comes from.
We have a lot of pictures at the coffee shop, so we have the wall that displays the “seed to cup” experience. One of our employees put that together. You know, after two years of employment at JavaVino, we invite all of our employees to go to the farm, and I think that is a great return for us because they all come back really excited! Afterwards a lot of them will create photo albums and wall displays and pictures, and they come back telling the stories for us. So pictures I think are the best ways to tell the stories because you can display pictures of the coffee farm, pictures of the wet mill, pictures of the dry mill, pictures of our vessel, pictures of the warehouse, and you can actually show the customers what the whole process looks like.
It is becoming trendier now for people to want to know where their food comes from.
CoffeeShopr: What it is the biggest advantage of coming from a coffee family?
H.K. I think I have a lot of resources, number one. Because we are connected to coffee from the moment it is planted to the moment it is being drank, it gives me a lot of resources to go to for help and questions. Additionally, I think it helps to diversify us even more because we also sell the coffee retail through grocery stores and then we also sell it wholesale to other coffee shops and restaurants.
CoffeeShopr: How do you find good baristas?
H.K. I don’t believe that you find good baristas. I feel that you have to find good people. You train them to be baristas. So the number one qualification I would look for in a candidate is just a great quality person that is going to work well as a team and that is naturally happy and good with customers and has a good demeanor. I really truly believe that you can train any passionate person to be good at making coffee. I would much rather prefer to hire a good person that doesn’t know how to make coffee than a difficult person that is great at making coffee.
I don’t believe that you find good baristas. I feel that you have to find good people.
I look at the questions that people ask. Are they genuinely interested in the business, in me, in the history and the story? Are they comfortable to talk to? I really like referrals. I like to hire friends of our staff, the colleagues, and the students that go to school together. We rarely hire somebody off the street. They usually come in recommended by our friends that say, “So and so are really great. I want you to interview them.” And then I look for people that are easy to talk to, that I can feel the connection with. Eye contact is very important as well. I would prefer somebody to say, “I don’t know” than to lie about an answer. Of course, they have to like coffee. I don’t hire people that don’t drink coffee. A lot of times I meet people who say, “I like the smell of coffee, and I like the atmosphere of the coffee shop, but I don’t drink coffee,” that doesn’t work for me.
I would much rather prefer to hire a good person that doesn’t know how to make coffee than a difficult person that is great at making coffee.
CoffeeShopr: What was the hardest part in developing your business?
H.K. I think the hardest part was building a customer base. We had the coffee, we had the connections, we had our brick and water, and now we needed to entice people to come in through the doors. So building a customer base was definitely the hardest part. Setting realistic expectations is very important. You expect to be busy for the 1st day and you aren’t – you panic.
How to deal with it – you need to just get out there. I got out there with signs and raced people in and put flyers on cars. We made lots of neighborhood review meetings, we hosted free parties – we really pushed hard in the neighborhood. I think number one is to get people through the doors, however you can, and then you are keeping them. After a couple of years of doing that the business just winds itself. People pick and stick to their favorite coffee shop.
Setting realistic expectations is very important. You expect to be busy for the 1st day and you aren’t – you panic.
CoffeeShopr: How would you describe your unique identifier from other similar businesses?
H.K. I think our unique identifier is the farmer direct connection. The fact that I am the farmer’s daughter and that we take trips to the farm, and I really know where our coffee comes from because I buy it from my family. I know it is organic. I know I am paying fair wages. I know where that money is going. I have the influence on how that coffee is processed. I get to meet the people and the families and the community. I would say the 2nd unique identifier is that we are a true mom and pop shop business that is owned and run exclusively by my husband and I. Plus our ten year old now works on Sunday behind the counter for a couple of hours working the register and serving the customers, and people really identify with that. I think it is getting harder to find places like that in the United States.
When we first started the business, we lived upstairs. It is a two-story building with a full basement, and we lived upstairs when I was pregnant with my 1st baby. Then we moved out when we had our 2nd son, and now we rent the upstairs for private parties. I think that living in the States and living in the community and having a child in there really helped a lot to our customer base because people really identified with us as a new family starting a new business. I get a lot of customers now that come back and see my son that I was pregnant with, who is now working at the register. It kind of finishes the whole seed to cup family experience. It makes it a real community.
CoffeeShopr: Some believe it’s not a good idea to work together with a family member. What’s your stand on that?
H.K. I think it works out good for us because I still have a day job, and we don’t work alone together all the time. We divide and conquer a lot, and we have different strengths. He loves the people part, and I do all the behind the scenes stuff – housekeeping, payroll, finances. I think that by splitting up the obligations we don’t have to work together all the time, so we are just being halfway.
CoffeeShopr: Are you planning to devote your full time to JavaVino at some point? What keeps you from doing it now?
H.K. Yeah that is the goal, the goal is to do it long term. I would say that what keeps me from doing it are the health benefits and the salary that you can depend on. You know it is a small business. Some months you do great, some months you don’t do so great. A day job gives me the confidence and the stability that you can count on. I have a very flexible job that lets me do all the things I want to do, so I am not in a hurry to give up the stability and the comforts that come with it.
We’ve also asked Steve some additional questions:
CoffeeShopr: What kind of equipment do you use at JavaVino?
S.F. At JavaVino we have a two-group Cimbali espresso machine and brew on Fetco Brewers. As far as roasters, at Beanealogy we have three. (CoffeeShopr’s Note: Beanealogy is the name of the roastery business that Steve runs.) One fluid bed air roaster that we use for 2lb batches or sample roasting, and our two main roasters are modified Primo Roasters. We have modified them slightly to give us certain control over inputs/outputs such as airflow, gas power, and burner consistency/efficiency. One roasts approximately 25lbs at a time and the other 45lbs.
Main roasters at Beanealogy
CoffeeShopr: How do you determine “quality” coffee?
S.F. We look at a few factors to determine overall quality. Freshness (both on the green and roasted side), altitude that the beans are grown at, percent of shade cover they grow under, the varietals that are grown on the farm, the sustainable programs that go along with the farms coffee, and of course its cupping scores.
CoffeeShopr: Do you have anything else to share with our readers?
S.F. I have been roasting now for over 11 years and make 2-3 trips a year to visit the coffee farm. I am an avid coffee taster and have been certified at the Q-Grader level for coffee cupping. I feel that in the coffee industry, if you claim to support coffee for the right reasons (quality/sustainability) then you need to do it 100%.
I feel like a lot of large companies talk up their specialty coffee lines or divisions, but in reality these companies are only doing 5-10% of their business using these coffees and the rest is driving by low priced, commodity based coffees that lack a visible supply chain and are most likely having huge negative effects on the area those coffees are sourced from. Even though I do see a growing trend in people asking for good coffees (not just that taste good, but come through proper channels), I see a huge percent of US consumers that just don’t understand the huge negative factors and implications that go with buying cheap commodity based coffees.
I feel that in the coffee industry, if you claim to support coffee for the right reasons (quality/sustainability) then you need to do it 100%.