By Jamie Siebrase | Oct 20, 2016
Industry: Food & Beverage
Goodlaxson was "looking for a business to found," he says, when he took a job in Denver in 2008 managing a Starbucks. "I knew I wanted to be in food and beverage, and coffee has lots of facets," Goodlaxson adds.
Two years later -- with managerial training and a working knowledge of roasting and production -- Goodlaxson started Corvus. The first year centered on developing a unique company identity: "For those who care about craft over consumption, Corvus is the artisan roaster that provides visibility, cup-to-cup," Goodlaxson says, reciting the company's guiding mission.
"We've done everything from selling green coffee to making cold brew, but we define ourselves as a roasting company," he explains. And, roasting is exactly what consumers see at 1740 South Broadway, at Corvus's flagship shop in Denver, where conspicuous manufacturing is intended to "make people curious about the story behind our coffee."
That story's written on the back of every bag of beans Corvus sells, where customers can read about the farmers and farms of origin for which Corvus's single-origin coffees are named. Rather than focus on fair trade, organic, and other certifications, Goodlaxson concentrates on the raw bean itself. "Quality is everything," he says.
Goodlaxson believes that quality "is based on a farmer's attention to detail." Beyond taste, his motivation for emphasizing quality is simple: "We believe farmers can provide themselves with better livelihoods through better coffee." With specialty coffee, he elaborates, farmers elevate their businesses by producing a highly sought after craft product, as opposed to a highly commoditized one.
Corvus sources about 50 tons of beans annually from farms worldwide, in Central America, South America, east Africa -- mainly Kenya and Rwanda -- and Hawaii, which is the only American state close enough to the equator to support bean growth.
Back in Denver, the roasting begins, and the key, Goodlaxson says, is quality input. "Finding the right beans is 90 percent of it."
Roasting itself requires only a working understanding of chemistry, the crux being "applying heat, and being able to relate that to what you want to get out of it," Goodlaxson explains. "A lot of people think of roasting as an endpoint -- dark, medium, or light -- but that's such a minor thing versus how much air or heat are applied at various times during the roast process."
Cupping -- tasting and evaluation -- comes next. "We cup daily," Goodlaxson says. "You can't find a good roast and leave it on autopilot; constant evaluation is the backbone of small-batch roasting."
As a small-batch supplier, Corvus roasts two or three times a week with a cast-iron Giesen roaster from the Netherlands. In 2014, the company added a retail component to its South Broadway roastery, giving customers new consumption opportunities while strengthening the Corvus brand. It worked: From selling a couple hundred pounds of coffee a week at inception to thousands of pounds weekly today, Corvus is growing right through its roof.
Goodlaxson is opening a Corvus headquarters on Santa Fe Drive, half a mile from the South Broadway storefront. He'll continue roasting at his flagship shop; training and quality control, though, will relocate to the 4,000-square-foot building on Santa Fe. And, adds Goodlaxson, "Half of the space will be set aside for future roasting expansion."
"We're also moving cold brew production," Goodlaxson says. Cold brew coffee -- featuring beans sourced from women-owned co-ops in Rwanda -- is one of the only finished products Corvus makes. In this popular industry niche, Goodlaxson distinguishes his brand by experimenting with interesting flavor profiles, including draft coffee with hops and a cold brew concentrate aged in whiskey barrels.
"Cold brew was not easy," Goodlaxson admits. The return on a sizable investment has been slow, but Goodlaxson appreciates the challenge because, he says, "It makes us think more creatively about everything we're doing."
Online coffee subscriptions are another experiment -- as is the roaster's forthcoming coffee bar, opening at Belleview Station in the Denver Tech Center in Nov. 2016. "As we expand, we need to have a really strong retail component," Goodlaxson says. This particular shop will showcase imported cold brew towers from Kyoto, Japan, apropos since Goodlaxson will be experimenting with more cold brew varieties, and offering "cocktail-like beverages built around our single-origin, cold brew Kyoto coffees."
Challenges: The greatest challenge is scaling operations. "We have been growing aggressively, and I'm finding that our operations -- which were fine with our size a couple of quarters ago -- are needing to really evolve to keep up with where we are now," says Goodlaxson.
Opportunities: "We have a lot of costs that are affecting our margins due to rapid growth," Goodlaxson explains. "We have an opportunity to bring our margins up quite a bit by keeping practices in place to reduce waste, unnecessary labor, and packaging costs."
Cold brew coffee presents another big opportunity: "It's one of the fastest growing food and beverage categories in the U.S. right now, and we're at the forefront of the market in terms of product quality and timing," says Goodlaxson.
Needs: "Better financial models," according to Goodlaxson. His current focus is figuring out what rate of growth he wants to strive for based on good financial practices. "I think that the future strength of our company depends on how well we can creatively service debt, the strength of our balance sheet and the real accessibility of our cash flow, as much as how much we grow our sales year over year."