– a Diedrich Roaster advertisement to be exact. Prior to that, Oren Bloostein only dreamed of owning his own shop. “It was then that I realized that I could actually roast my own coffee,” he said. Although he went on to purchase a less expensive model, the dream is the most important aspect to this story.
In fact, with that dream, Bloostein went on to become one of the largest coffee retailers in New York City, and despite the Starbucks intervention that troubles many businesses, he was able to demonstrate that quality and dedication to the craft could overcome it all.
From developing a program that purchases coffee straight from origin, to building schools and providing clean water to various regions of Ethiopia, Oren’s demonstrates that for the love of coffee, any small company can contribute in grandiose ways.
CP: How long have you been in the coffee business?
OB: We’ve been in business for 21 years. We opened our doors on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1986.
CP: How did you enter the industry?
OB: I lived in an apartment building in New York City that had a small, tiny shop on the street, and since then I wanted to open a coffee store. It looked like it would be both fun and workable.
CP: Why did you open a coffee shop?
OB: I have retail in my blood! I worked for Saks, but hated the corporate culture. I needed to do something on my own. Something that was of the highest quality, and that I could master (ha!) and have fun.
CP: Please supply us with a list of tea and coffee product lines?
OB: We have coffees that we roast and source, both from respected brokers and direct from origin. That is about 20 or 22 different single origin varietal coffees, if we have found everything we want, as well as SWP and Euro process decafs. We also do about another dozen dark roasts and blends, including our own Beowulf Espresso Blend. We also have a line of quality loose teas, as well as several branded lines of teabags.
CP: What else do you provide other than tea/coffee?
OB: We offer both packaged foods and fresh pastries. We get our biscotti from a small family bakery in California. We get shortbread cookies from McDuffies, which are great. We also get fresh pastry from several different vendors, because while it would be nice to only send one check a week, they do not all have the best items in every category we buy, so we buy from many vendors.
CP: Who are your beverage line suppliers?
OB: We are the only branded beverage.
CP: What are your most popular coffee origins?
OB: Colombia, Sumatra, Kenya, Costa Rica.
CP: What is your most popular type of tea/coffee?
OB: Our Oren’s Special Blend, which is a combination of Colombia, Sumatra, and French roast Colombia.
CP: Please give an estimate of foot traffic.
OB: More would be better.
CP: What are the demographics of your customers?
OB: Coffee drinkers make over half the population, but we have virtually everyone. They are mostly neighborhood residents, workers/commuters by the commercial shops, and students. More educated, well off (it is Manhattan), your typical specialty coffee drinker’s profile, and – of course – they love coffee.
CP: Can you offer any promotional ideas?
OB: We do loyalty cards (for both bean and beverage) that are very well received, since they have a very high value for redemption. Customers receive a free beverage, or product of their choice, after a number of stamps on the cards.
CP: What brand (type of) espresso machine do you have?
OB: Cimbali semi automatics.
CP: Do you roast?
OB: Since day one, but then not the next week (the roaster was being repaired), and then from there on.
CP: What brand (type of) roaster do you have?
OB: Gothot Rapido Nova.
CP: Who do you roast for?
OB: Mostly for us, but we have several dozen loyal wholesale customers as well.
CP: Do you roast under your own name, or do you private label?
CP: How do you recruit employees? How do you retain them?
OB: The best way to find employees is [through] friends of good employees. Otherwise, we do advertise, interview, train and fire lots of people. Retaining them for us hasn’t been a problem. Keeping people [for] too long is a problem. We have very good benefits packages for full-timers, and some benefits for part-timers as well. Plus, we are a fun place to work. Coffee is such a great business.
CP: Describe your store’s layout.
OB: We generally lay out the store so that we have our coffee beans on the left wall, merchandise on the right, and the beverage counter in the back. We have no tables or chairs. In some of the shops we do have a small coffee bar in the window with a couple of stools. We also have equipment that we are constantly re-evaluating, but we have a general package so that we know — pretty accurately — what our space and electrical and plumbing needs will be.
CP: Is there anything you would like to share with our readers?
OB: I am very proud of our buying program at origin. Not only are we buying some amazing coffees, but we are paying the farmer the premium for his work! We are able to self certify that there is ‘fair trade,’ since we paid the farmers ourselves, or under our direct supervision. With this, the farmers are thrilled, since they rarely see the premiums their coffee earns.
We have also completed a project in Ethiopia’s Sidama area, where we brought clean drinking water to a community of 4,000 that [previously] had none. This year we are working to renovate a secondary school in the Harargue region.
We are doing things that I thought a small company could not do, but with committed people we can do almost anything. I have the greatest family support (my wife Nancy has worked with me), the greatest staff and the most fun I could ever hope for. I am a truly lucky person.
Editor’s Note: As for the school building project, Oren’s is seeking the assistance and participation of other members in the coffee industry. For more information, please visit the company’s website: www.orensdailyroast.com.