Fstopcafé Bainbridge Roasters of Bainbridge Island was born out of a hobby and an unplanned expedition that began nearly 14 years ago. In 2004, David Adler took his first trip to Nicaragua, thanks to an invitation to join a coffee delegation to Isla de Ometepe, Bainbridge’s sister island since 1986. David had been roasting coffee at home for a few years, but was working as a research scientist at UW and ZymoGenetics Inc. in Seattle; and wife Kris Carroll running a photography/illustration studio at UW and selling prints at farmers markets. All of that changed when they met the farmers, and saw the coffee being grown and processed by hand. Kcarroll Photography changed to Fstopcafé.
David has since returned to Nicaragua 1 or 2 times each year. David gained experience roasting and learning the logistics of importing green coffee beans, and the vision for a commercial roasting facility for Fstopcafé came into focus in 2013. That’s when David and Kris sought out funding to build a roasting facility, café, and photo gallery.
But starting a business was more than either David or Kris had intended to do from the start. While they were experts in their previous fields, they had a steep learning curve when it came to entrepreneurship. Luckily, they found both support and funding at Business Impact NW, formerly Community Capital Development. The pair worked with long-time loan officer Roland Chaiton, who “demanded excellence.” “Roland held my hand through the process,” said David. “He taught me a lot – we worked for a year on the money part… and Kris and I put our retirement funds into it,” added David. With a sweeping glance across his facility David says, “the fact that this commercial roaster and afterburner is in this place where we can do manufacturing is pretty incredible.”
Fast forward to 2017, where David and Kris sit to share their story over single origin coffee and china tea (their daughter’s label) to their roaster and pallets of coffee beans. They sell fresh brewed coffee and espresso at the local Bainbridge Island Farmer’s Market, whole roasted beans online, and even coffee “cupping,” or tasting, classes. David understands coffee roasting on a molecular level. “Coffee is the most complicated thing we consume,” with over 900 molecules, he says. But don’t think that it’s all science. It’s also art. David thinks of himself as a 7th wave roaster – he lets the coffee speak to him.
Together, the pair is passionate about not only roasting great coffee, but also making coffee “a piece of the economic solution for farmers.” “I love the genetics and genomics of coffee because I’m a science guy, but equally exciting is my relationship with coffee farmers. I’m happiest when I’m there,” says David.
Often they are asked if their coffee is “fair trade,” and in response explain that fair trade sets the floor price, and they often pay double, or more, than the fair trade minimum. That means that farmers actually receive a higher living wage for their year-round labor and product. How? One vehicle for this is the collaboration that Fstopcafé has with the Bainbridge Ometepe Sister Islands Association. Another is their partnership with Tostadores de Ometepe, a for profit roasting business on Ometepe, as well as their working together with farmers in several countries on quality enhancement projects.
Fstopcafé Bainbridge Roasters is proud to support coffee farmers, but David and Kris are also proud of building a successful business for themselves that gives back locally by teaching hobbyists, hiring employees, and even donating to community events. Kris shares, “It’s fun. It’s amazing. This is ours. The money comes to us, it’s our work, I’m so proud of it; I wish we’d done it 40 years ago!” David agrees: “I do really enjoy the process of roasting coffee. For me, it’s my meditation. It’s alchemy.”
What’s next? Hopefully, adding a tasting room to their roasting facility and perhaps a small café. They are always looking to sustain their business with a “focus on quality,” while also looking at new and innovative ways to improve sustainability for the farmers, including the ability to prepay for goods and provide living wages for their work.
Find “fstopcafe” online at Instragram, Facebook, www.fstopcafe.com or in person on Saturdays during the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market. Very shortly fstopcafe will change branding to become Islandcraft Coffee Roasters, appearing in regional supermarkets. Their first commercial foodservice client is Good Egg, a newly launched breakfast and lunch spot on Bainbridge Island.