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Eôté Coffee hits the black
Todd Vinson doesn’t just know about the coffee beans he’s roasting. He knows the people who grow the beans.
He shares stories about visiting with the Ferrufino family, which operates the Nicaragua-based Ferrufino Coffee Estate. The family’s beans are among several he uses at Eôté Coffee. He’s taken the Ferrufinos’ roasted beans back to the family and enjoyed coffee with them.
He works with Thrive Farmers, which helps him source coffee beans straight from the growers around the world. He meets the farmers and gets to know their stories about how vital coffee bean growing is to their families.
“When you know the steps they take (to grow their coffee), it really makes you want to go the extra mile to do your best,” Vinson said.
He started the company in 2012 as a way to help support the Chandler-based Willow Springs Boys Ranch, which he also founded. The Christian program puts boys into family-like living situations on the ranch and helps them have a more structured lifestyle.
One dollar from each bag of coffee goes to the ranch, and the overall donation has grown exponentially in the last six years as demand for the coffee has risen, Vinson said.
Eôté started with a small roaster in Vinson’s garage at the ranch. Cafe Kacao was the first restaurant to sell his product.
Now his coffee mug collection representing the restaurants that sell his coffee is much larger, with Sunnyside Diner, HunnyBunny Biscuit Co., and The Press represented in the cups. He once sold 800 pounds per month. He was sending 500 pounds per day out the door last week and is projecting he’ll see 5,000 pounds leave his 48th Street roastery this month.
He does all of that with a 3-kilo and a 12-kilo roaster. With the connections he’s already made with new restaurant operators, he’s planning to buy a 90-kilo roaster later this year. That will allow him to roast 500 pounds of beans in an hour.
Part of that growth in demand has been fueled by Henderson Coffee Corp. distributing the coffee to some offices, though the distribution is more to restaurants. National American Insurance Co., in Chandler, has made the switch to Eôté. The company employs more than 200 people in the city, said President and Chief Operating Officer Lance LaGere.
LaGere said NAIC tries to make small changes where it can to improve the company’s work environment.
“The quality of the coffee itself is better than what we were serving,” he said.
He has it at his home, so he didn’t have to do a search for a better brand. Eôté also came with the benefit of helping a nonprofit in the community. He said he’s met men who have graduated from the Willow Springs program who seem to have a level head on their shoulders after leaving.
The coffee switch did cost a little more, but the price per cup was comparable to the brand names, he said, with the difference in taste and quality making it a fair trade.
About 80 percent of Eôté’s coffee is sold at a wholesale level, with about 20 percent sold on retail shelves. Vinson said he’d like to see the retail side get to 25 percent. When he gets bigger equipment, he’ll be able to meet more retail demand.
The company has grown slowly, but the systems to continue the growth have been put in place along the way. He also had an investment from a relative, who happened to be an Orange Leaf franchisee. With his dedication to giving $1 from every bag – no matter its size – to Willow Springs, getting to the profit side of the balance sheet has been a challenge. He reached it this year.
The donations to Willow Springs have helped the ranch complete a counselors’ cabin, said Rich Love, chairman this year of the ranch’s board of directors. Love is an attorney in Tulsa at Conner & Winters. Vinson said other buildings have been completed as well, along with the creation of an endowment fund.
But the biggest contribution Eôté makes to Willow Springs, he said, is getting the name of the ranch out to the public. He said as the demand for Eôté’s coffee has grown, he’s seen more people learn about the ranch. He’s been to weekly coffee tastings where he sees people he hasn’t seen in years, and they’ll learn about the ranch.
“It’s definitely helped grow the reach of our ministry, especially in the Edmond area,” he said.
Love said he drinks the Willow Spring coffee blend at his home and has the coffee while he’s doing his morning devotional.
“It’s good coffee,” he said.
Ultimately, Vinson wants the company to be a regional brand. The roastery warehouse has a mini-coffee-shop-style area, but he doesn’t plan to open a store soon. And if he did, it would be outside the metro where he won’t compete with his customers.
While he has ideas he’d like to see come to life at the roastery, his thought always go back to the ranch. If Eôté were to become a national brand, he could do more at the ranch.
“Companies that make a difference will make a dollar,” he said. “For us, we’ll make a difference before we make a dollar.”