Well-crafted coffee roasters find a market | nnbw.com

Well-crafted coffee roasters find a market

John Seelmeyer

When Bill Kennedy makes a cup of coffee for a visitor, he takes out a stopwatch and a digital scale to ensure that the process is precisely right.

That same sort of attention to craftsmanship is helping his Fallon-based manufacturer of coffee roasting equipment weather the recession.

Coffee PER Inc., one of only three manufacturers of coffee roasters in the United States, finds particular success these days with a roaster than can process six pounds of green coffee beans in a batch.

That capacity works well for folks who are producing up to 18 pounds of fine-crafted roasted coffee an hour for sale at farmers markets and community festivals.

Buyers of those roasters, Kennedy says, often are folks who are leaving corporate life behind and have the wherewithal and the discriminating taste to justify a $12,500 purchase of a well-crafted roaster.

But the coffee shops and larger commercial customers who buy larger versions of the company’s roasters, all of which are sold under The San Franciscan brand, are doing just fine, too.

“In spite of the economy, all of the roasters I’m talking to are having banner years,” Kennedy says. “Coffee is one pleasure you’re going to hang onto, no matter what is happening.”

That’s true around the world.

In recent weeks, shipments from Coffee PER’s modest factory on the north edge of Fallon have included four coffee roasters exported to Korea, one to New Zealand and one to Papau New Guinea.

But the export sales present a headache, too, as Kennedy needs to ensure that the electrical elements, natural gas heating and other components of the roasters meet the often-disparate requirements of regulators around the world.

And it’s not exactly like Coffee PER is a big organization.

Kennedy oversees the four-person company a couple of part-timers also help out and handles the management and marketing roles himself.

He relies mostly on the company’s Web site to carry the marketing load. Trade shows are too expensive, and time is too precious to allow much prospecting for clients.

The rest of the Coffee PER staff assembles components purchased from suppliers most of them are headquartered in northern Nevada and finishes up by powder-coating steel components and polishing brass components.

Occasionally, they turn to a well-maintained 70-year-old lathe equipment scavenged from a World War II Liberty ship to mill a part.

Unlike competitors who have integrated computer controls into their coffee roasters, The San Franciscan line relies heavily on the touch of the roastmaster. In fact, Coffee PER has built roasters that track barometric pressure, one of the hundreds of variables that can affect coffee beans as they’re roasted.

“We’re all about the artisan and developing the craft,” says Kennedy.

Coffee PER Inc. the initials stand for “Processing Equipment and Repair” was launched in San Carlos, Calif., in 1992 by Sherman Dodd.

Dodd, who’d worked 25 years for Probat, a German manufacturer of coffee roasters, decided he could build a better unit himself.

The San Franciscan that he developed is easier to clean and maintain than competitors, says Kennedy, and it’s so sturdy that customers report few problems even after a decade or more of daily roasting.

The company moved to Fallon in 1993.

Kennedy, who was looking to get into the retail coffee business as he retired from teaching and school administration, met Dodd and learned that the founder was beginning to wind down the business.

Convinced that the manufacturer still had a future, Kennedy bought Coffee PER two years ago.

“We put everything into it,” he says. “This was all or nothing, do or die.”

So far, Kennedy’s bet that he could bring the company back to life is paying off. The company is profitable, and Kennedy says, “Slowly, things are picking back up.”