SHERMAN — John Rich met skepticism in November as he opened Sacred Grounds Coffee Roasters in this rural community, but just months later his fair trade coffee business continues to grow.
In four months Rich, 46, found a niche market and he is selling 16 certified organic and fair trade coffees from around the world in his store. He also offers six retail coffees to grocery stores and restaurants. His certified organic and fair trade coffees are a hit far into Litchfield County.
“I will be in 50 stores and restaurants by year-end,” he said.
Gary Davis, owner of Davis IGA in Kent, is selling Rich’s coffee.
“We’re always happy to support local products,” he said. “It’s doing well.”
As a coffee connoisseur and purist, Rich began shaping his business plans years ago with a passion to roast his own certified organic coffee. He worked for 12 years with his brother in property management, and also spent time in television as a video engineer and worked in advertising as a graphic designer, before turning entrepreneur.
“When I roasted at home, it changed my perspective on coffee. Fresh coffee is much different from most big name coffees that sit on shelves for months. It’s not bitter and I don’t have to add cream or sweetener,” he said.
That sent him on a quest to find the best cup of java on earth, which extended into the fair trade global marketplace. Rich began buying whole beans through coffee brokers direct from Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. His experience with roasting and importing the whole beans for personal consumption then progressed into his business plan to sell to businesses and individuals.
After the coffee is imported it is roasted in a state-of-the-art infrared roaster and stocked as inventory.
The retail price for Rich’s coffee is between $7 and $10 for a half-pound bag and between $14 and $19 for a one-pound bag.
As the sole employee, Rich gets a hand from his mother and a network of friends and family who sometimes mind his shop and help with deliveries.
In Litchfield County his coffee can be found in Kent, New Milford, Torrington, Watertown, Woodbury and Salisbury. Markets in Northfield and Bantam will soon be carrying his coffee as well.
Rich is tapping into a demand from supermarkets and restaurants that value local organic products. He said the most potential for growth is selling directly to other businesses, but sales online and in his store to consumers is also steady. He maintains a small Sherman storefront where he connects with “the best focus group ever,” his loyal customers.
Davis said Mexico Chiapas Black & Tan is a top seller at his Kent market. Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Supernatural Dark are close seconds. Indonesia Sumatra, Elevation, and Awakening also appeal to many store owners.
“Roasting on-site in my store is the best way to deliver the freshest product possible,” Rich said. “Plus, the whole organic and fair trade factor ties in because we’re dedicated to roasting only those beans and no others, so the beans never get mingled with other non-organic products.”
Article and photos by Alicia Sakal. Originally written for Republican-American, a regional daily Newspaper in Connecticut – March 21, 2016 Edition.
Sacred Grounds Coffee Roasters Address: 1 Route 37 East, Sherman, Connecticut; Phone: 860.717.2871; Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. M – F, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.
Great interview and interesting story!