Nobody gets into commercial coffee roasting for a love of spreadsheets and accounting software. Those things are essentials in any business, big or small, yet rarely do they make roasters eager to jump out of bed first thing in the morning.
An exception is Jon Ewalt, who in eight years of roasting for Big Water Coffee Roasters — a roastery and café he founded and ran along with his wife Danielle Ewalt — said the “geeking out” over scaling and maximizing production efficiency gave him more excitement than any of the company’s other day-to-day tasks.
This passion has led to Ewalt’s new business venture, RoasterTools, which last month received a “Best New Product” award at the Specialty Coffee Association of America Expo in Atlanta. The Ewalts recently sold Big Water — which had been growing in the summer-tourist-heavy Northern Wisconsin town of Bayfield — returning to Jon’s native home of Portland, Ore., where he and Danielle originally met.
“We’ve been out here since late August — and it’s been a crazy whirlwind,” said Jon Ewalt. “Obviously going from this brick and mortar roastery that was growing pretty quickly to starting a whole new business has been a really big change. In the last year, I’ve had a baby, moved, started a business and won an award for it.”
Leaving Big Water — which Ewalt described as his “other baby” — to launch a related but very different type of business was a risk, but he said initial response, and especially the many conversations with potential and new clients held during SCAA, have affirmed demand for a product like RoasterTools.
The product itself is a web application with three primary operational functions: profit analysis; order entry; and production planning. For profit analysis, the app calculates key production data from green to roasted with an easy-to-process interface, rather than having roasters rely on piecing together spreadsheets from numerous sources. The production planning service generates daily production reports, culling data from wholesale and online orders, while providing specific reports for blending and e-commerce transactions. The order entry service exports daily orders to accounting software in a click, and allows for integrated payments and automatic e-mail invoicing.
Naturally, RoasterTools can be customized to the needs of each roaster, with more detail on each of the services currently available through a free demo on the company’s website.
Ewalt suggested huge coffee companies have access to services similar to those offered by RoasterTools, but said smaller roasters — up to say, 1 million pounds a year — have had very little tech-based help in maximizing efficiency and profitability.
“I feel for these guys because I’ve been there,” Ewalt said of his eight years piecing together production practices for Big Water. “There are a lot of tools for coffee consistency and quality, but we haven’t had a lot of tools for us to run our businesses well.”
RoasterTools launched earlier this year with a monthly pricing plan based on roastery production capacity: $129 per month for roasters doing up to 25,000 pounds per year; $279 per month for roasters up to 100,000 pounds per year; and $499 per month for roasters up to 1 million pounds per year. Roasters producing more than 1 million pounds per year can call for pricing, and all monthly packages involve a $495 setup fee, as Ewalt will work with companies to install and tailor the system to specific needs, while training key staff on use of the app. The company is also adding annual packages for which the setup fee would be waived.
Ewalt said that while the initial setup requires some time and collaboration, early adopters have been more compelled by the long-term time-saving and revenue-maximizing potential.
“The worst thing to see is a business owner burning out. That shouldn’t happen,” Ewalt said. “We’re too often operating in our own silos. And if I can in some small way help people enjoy their day running a coffee business, then I’d be really happy.”