The Roasterie

“Five years ago, not too many college students drank coffee,” Briscoe said. “And if they did, they didn’t care about quality.”

On Labor Day 2006, The Roasterie cemented its status as Kansas City’s premier specialty coffee importer, roaster and distributor when it upsized its headquarters from a modest 15,000 square-foot structure at 2601 Madison Ave. to a 30,000 square-foot building at 1204 W. 27th St., just a half mile from the Boulevard Brewery. From the outside, the new headquarters is daunting in scope, its size every bit as overpowering as the aroma of coffee emanating from within. Once inside, however, the humble nature of The Roasterie becomes manifest: Beyond a long corridor, which passes office space and the cupping room – where coffee is sampled in a process akin to wine-tasting – lies “The Green Mile.” Here, hundreds of burlap sacks burgeoning with green coffee from 20 countries around the world are displayed. Some sacks proudly carry The Roasterie logo, an indication of how important the coffee producer’s welfare is to The Roasterie’s mission.
“It might have something to do with my Iowan upbringing, but I’ve always gotten along with farmers,” said Danny O’Neill, owner and president of The Roasterie. “I consider what they do to be a fine art, whether it’s growing wheat, corn, soybeans or coffee.”


he Roasterie has its roots in Costa Rica, where O’Neill was a foreign exchange student during his senior year of high school in 1978. His host family resided in the mountainous, coffee-rich terrain near the Paos volcano. He described the first time he picked a coffee bean as love at first sight.
“I was enamored by it: how something so small and seemingly insignificant could be responsible for a people’s livelihood,” O’Neill said. “I fell in love – with the country, its people and the coffee.”
Fifteen years later, after receiving a BA from Iowa State University and an MBA from the Rockhurst University Executive Fellows Program in Kansas City, O’Neill could no longer ignore his nightly escapades to the coffee fields.
“For 10 years I dreamt about coffee while I worked in the corporate world,” O’Neill said. “I figured it was about time I realized my dream.”
O’Neill founded The Roasterie in November 1993 as a business committed to top-flight coffee. Rather than take someone’s word for it, O’Neill was determined to learn everything personally about a coffee bean before laying down a buying price – who’s the producer, what are the growing conditions, how does the coffee taste hot, warm, cold?
“I wanted my customers to be treated to the best coffee the world has to offer,” he said.
Since he was without much money and couldn’t find a building to suit his needs, O’Neill ran the first edition of The Roasterie out of the basement of his Brookside home. At that point in time, O’Neill said he had no delusions of becoming a major coffee roaster. “I just enjoyed my father’s company and figured it would never amount to much more than a small family business,” he said.


fter “a long and dark” first six weeks in which O’Neill couldn’t make a sale, business began to pick up in the seventh week when the University of Kansas Medical Center and St. Luke’s Hospital jumped onboard as regular customers. Before long, O’Neill was working 18- to 20-hour days during the week and on the weekends he busied himself by providing free coffee for charity fundraisers, a practice continued by The Roasterie to this day – every year The Roasterie donates enough coffee to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. In July 1994, O’Neill moved The Roasterie to a 2,000 square-foot facility at 1519 Cherry St., and a year and a half later he moved it to 2601 Madison Ave., where it would remain until Labor Day of last year. The new facility at 1204 W. 27th St. can produce 10 times the volume of the former one.
“Again and again, the common saying has been: Danny, you’re paying for all this space but you’re never going to use all of it,” O’Neill said. “Again and again, The Roasterie has exceeded expectations.”


hile previous headquarters functioned merely as production hubs, the new headquarters serves an additional purpose: tourism. By the end of 2007, the final look of The Roasterie should be in place.
To complement its logo, a DC-30 aircraft with the tagline “air-roasted coffee,” The Roasterie’s headquarters will resemble a 1930s-era hangar replete with corrugated tin, sounds of DC-30 aircraft, ample windows, a concrete floor and some Art Deco flourishes, most notably its cherry walls. Rather than hire an outside consultant, The Roasterie leans on marketing coordinator Jason Burton and marketing associate Brandon Briscoe for a bulk of its creative brainstorming. Both have degrees in art and design.
“It’s our hope that The Roasterie becomes a place to visit on par with the Boulevard brewery,” Burton said.
The Roasterie has plans to build a larger cupping room as well as a retail space and a small café. In addition to coffee artifacts, which will include everything from Buell coffee pots to cowboy coffee cans to modern-day coffee makers, a disassembled airplane will lay scattered as if the consequence of a crash.
Burton and Briscoe’s chief objective remains reaching out to the college-aged crowd.
“Five years ago, not too many college students drank coffee,” Briscoe said. “And if they did, they didn’t care about quality.”
At present, thanks to the Starbucks phenomenon, a coffee shop has become a happening hang-out spot. Toss a dart at any college town in America and oodles of students are bound to be blabbing over a cup of Joe at most any time of day.
Prior to Burton and Briscoe’s arrival, The Roasterie’s colors were black and white, their targeted age demographic old, and their appeal: “boring,” Briscoe said.
Now, The Roasterie’s colors are aswirl with blues and greens, their targeted age demographic younger, and their appeal: “a lot of fun,” Burton and Briscoe said.


aturally, looks and ambiance only go so far to hooking customers. You have to have the goods. And at The Roasterie, coffee is akin to caviar.
Dave Hermann, roaster, spent one year studying different roasters before deciding on Sivetz commercial hot air roasters. He estimates that less than one percent of competitors invest in air roasters, which, though they come at a higher cost, yield a more even roast than conventional drum roasters. By utilizing a blower that creates a vortex to move the coffee beans, air roasters are able to achieve a degree of movement in every bean that is impossible with drum roasters. And, with four blowers all of a different size, The Roasterie is able to roast by order.
“We can roast 300 pounds at one time or 10 pounds at a time depending on the order,” Hermann said.
When the coffee is ready to be bagged and distributed, enter the Fresco GL9, which preserves the product by removing all oxygen from the package and attaching a born-on date. This way, customers know precisely when the coffee was packaged, not when it’s due to expire, said Burton.
Of course, the most important ingredient to The Roasterie’s success isn’t its state-of-the-art machinery, it’s the quality of the coffee beans themselves.
“If you get good coffee, you’re three-quarters there,” said Dave Hermann, roaster.
Hermann and Norman Killmon, master roaster, oftentimes accompany O’Neill on routine trips to coffee-rich lands. The purpose of these journeys is to locate the finest coffee beans and then build a rapport with the growers. O’Neill and his team have been extremely successful in negotiating the exclusive rights to coffee beans from small farmers in Costa Rica to Ethiopia.
“I like to think that The Roasterie is community-minded, extending from the local area to coffee-producing countries,” O’Neill said. “I feel that if you take care of the farmers, take care of your staff and take care of the community, you’ll take care of the customer, too.”

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