How Academic Coffee in San Jose, CA began roasting coffee affordably in a cost-prohibitive city with a Bellwether Roaster.
Background: High startup costs kept Academic from roasting.
Frank Nguyen was like most coffee professionals in high-cost cities. He dreamed of opening his own coffee shop, but roasting—with the high permit and construction costs—seemed so out of reach, it wasn’t remotely in the cards. In fact, the permits for opening his full cafe location took so long to acquire, Academic Coffee started as a pop-up in a bar for nearly a full year.
“To add a gas meter or the proper ventilation was not an option. It would have been too cost-prohibitive with San Jose’s permits and inspections. It would have taken six more months to add a gas line. So we were like, ‘Hey, let’s just go all-electric.’”
Solution: A commercial coffee roaster that bypasses permits and construction costs.
Frank opened Academic Coffee’s cafe in 2017 with a wholesale roasting partner, believing it was his only option. The coffee quality was high and customers were happy, but when the pandemic hit, Frank knew he was at risk leaving roasting in someone else’s hands. When he discovered the Bellwether Roaster, he knew it matched his goals, including:
- Roasting in-house without months-long, costly construction
- A 100% electric cafe to comply with new natural gas bans
- Complete control over costs and growth opportunity
“Our business was down. We were trying to figure out a way to improve our own efficiency and our own cost. We had people on the team who wanted to roast and learn more about roasting, so it made sense to take roasting in-house, and Bellwether offered a really great option to make it happen.”
Results: Roasting in-house retained staff and unlocked new sales opportunities immediately.
Within a couple of weeks, Academic’s roaster was installed in their cafe. Frank and his team were on-boarded and roasting the day after install.
“With Bellwether being all-electric and not requiring any ventilation changes for our business, it was pretty much plug-and-play. I think that was the biggest deciding factor for us. It’s also just really easy to use. Right now, we only have two people roasting. The exciting part is once we get into a good groove, we can have other folks on the team use it as well, and it just makes life easier for everybody.”
The short learning curve for roasting on a Bellwether allowed Frank to quickly pivot staff away from making drinks to roasting, which meant he didn’t have to furlough a single employee during the shelter-in-place period caused by the pandemic.
“It allowed us to retain all our staff because we just shifted some of our time to roasting in-house. Now, there’s hope that we can get through this because we’re roasting ourselves. The quality is good and it’s been an easy transition into our workflow.”
Looking to the future, Frank sees Bellwether Roasters—and how roast profiles can easily be replicated on multiple machines—as an integral part of his expansion strategy.
“What’s exciting for me would be another space somewhere, and we want a second machine. It would be really awesome for us to just be like, “Hey, here’s the roast profile, here’s the coffee,” and then it could be replicated across different locations. Bellwether grows with us that way.”