It’s easy to make assumptions about the Portland, Ore., coffee scene in terms of just how saturated the market and heated the competition might be. And yet, not only are new shops and new roasting companies continually popping up, several of the existing ones also continue to expand.
In recent months Daily Coffee News has reported on significant expansions by Water Avenue Coffee, Roseline Coffee and Ristretto Roasters. Portland’s Heart Coffee Roasters is now settling into new production digs as well, with equipment awaiting installation that will quadruple the company’s roasting capacity.
It was almost a year ago that Heart signed the lease on a warehouse space at 923 SE Hawthorne. Beyond a bit of plumbing work in the set-up of their new wholesale client training lab, it was a fairly straightforward buildout. However, due to the abundance of development and construction around the city, it became a frustratingly slow process nonetheless. “There’s so much happening in Portland right now. The city’s growing,” Heart Coffee Roasters Founder Wille Yli-Luoma told Daily Coffee News. “A lot of people aren’t available. There’s a shortage of contractors and electricians and plumbers. Sometimes they just didn’t show up, which is kind of crazy.”
By spring 2015 the Probat UG15 that had lived happily on the floor of Heart’s East Burnside café was successfully relocated into the new warehouse, with expanded room for green storage and space for other areas of production which had previously been crammed into the basement of the East Burnside location. Said Yli-Luoma, “We moved in there six months ago, and it’s been a healthy, steady growth since then.”
It’s growth the business undertook in anticipation of a new kingpin item on the cusp of installation: a vintage, restored 60-kilo-capacity Probat G60 that Yli-Luoma estimates will be running test batches in about two weeks. “We prefer Probats over any other machines. It’s kind of like how any carpenter or other worker, they have the tools they like working with,” said Yli-Luoma. “These are just the ones we like working with.”
Currently Heart roasts five long days per week just to keep up with existing demand while also reserving two days off in a row for the production roasting staff. Yli-Luoma expects that the G60’s first task will be to handle production for the company’s popular Stereo blend. “Fifty percent of production is Stereo,” said Yli-Luoma of the blend that is often served by wholesale clients as either espresso or filter coffee.
To this point, getting the new roaster on line was not a matter of urgency, but just of planning responsibly for the future. “We’re not in a rush. It’s more just getting something in place so we can grow,” said Yli Luoma. “It’s not that we’re all of a sudden growing uber-fast.” However, with the holiday season now close at hand, the relief that the expanded capacity will bring is indeed a welcome upgrade. Added Yli-Luoma, “We feel the pain of production increasing, and we’re like, ‘woah, this is getting kind of tough with just this one machine.’ If it wasn’t the holidays we’d probably be fine with just the one machine.”
Meanwhile, the space left vacant on the café floor at the East Burnside location is undergoing a tricky remodel. “We’re trying to remodel while we’re open, which has been really, really, really difficult,” said Yli-Luoma. “We got half of it done. The hardest part was to cut the bar in half, and to get it shaped back together. We basically changed the whole flow of the café.”
Another advantage to the upcoming uptick in production capacity is that it opens wider the door to future retail development as well. “We’re always looking at spots,” said Yli-Luoma, noting again, “We’re not in a rush. I don’t want to force it.” Yli-Luoma stated that a few inquiries have been floated for a few different potential spaces, although these are but the earliest salvos in the quest for additional properties. “We are looking at spaces,” said Yli-Luoma. “There are some LOI’s signed for some spots already, so, we’ll see if any leases come from there or not.”