Alum of Coffee: Slojoy Coffee Roasters
Anyone who has met Chris Stites knows his mission in life is to spread joy.
After a chance visit to a Hawaiian coffee farm, Chris realized that the best way for him to spread that joy just might be through serving people a good cup of coffee. Returning home to Oakland, his newly ignited passion led him to expand his farm to cup knowledge even further.
The stories of the people behind each bean stuck with him and, eventually, he purchased a small roaster to begin spinning his own coffee narrative. Within the year, Chris founded Slojoy Coffee Roasters, a home for his two callings in life: coffee & community.
When did you first decide to start a food business?
My wife and I took a trip to Maui for vacation in late 2014. On the way there we stumbled over a tourist magazine that mentioned a coffee farm tour. Up to that point we just drank coffee because we wanted to feel like adults and we needed the energy. We ended up taking the tour of the coffee farm, learning about coffee from the planting to the harvesting to the roasting. Our minds were blown. We tasted coffee that actually had beautiful taste. We came back home and decided to learn more so we purchased a small home roaster and started from there…just roasting coffee for our family and friends for Christmas gifts. After a few weeks of roasting and drinking our own coffee, we were amazed. We were falling more and more in love with coffee and the way it was made. We decided to venture out and start selling bags online. Although we still knew nothing that we know now – we still had the same passion that wanted everyone to taste good, fresh (not-burnt) coffee.
How did Food Craft Institute’s Coffee Roasting & Retail help you grow your business?
I think the biggest boost it gave me was the confidence and passion that this crazy idea was actually possible. The combination of spending time with some of the best in the coffee world to learning the nuts and bolts of starting a business was golden for me. It gave me a bigger vision and passion along with some realistic views of how to operate on the daily. I came back from each week more excited and more focused.
I would say the most helpful aspect was the time spent hearing from and talking with the owners of the coffee companies. Those unscripted conversations helped shape a lot of who we are in regards to how we operate and how we roast and brew. It was one thing drinking their coffee. It was another thing hearing why they did the things they did and how they did them. It was encouraging to see that even with large operations such as Verve Coffee Roasters, the care, excitement and quality was still top priority.
Who is your biggest food inspiration?
That is a hard question. We don’t really have one specific inspiration. We have learned a lot from the local coffee shops and roasters around the Bay Area. This might sound strange but we aren’t in competition. We love learning from all the gifted roasters around us. We are better because of them. We love their coffee and still go to their shops often to get inspiration and support. So, if we had to give an answer to who our biggest inspiration is I would say all the amazingly humble, talented and solid roasters and shops around us. We are thankful to be in an area where coffee is top level. We are just riding the wave and sipping good coffee daily!
What do you envision the upcoming years will bring for Slojoy?
If you would have said a year ago that we would have a coffee shop in a local market in Oakland, I would have said you were smoking something illegal. This has been a crazy adventure and we are still so new to it all. Our vision is to keep roasting weekly and keep brewing one cup at a time. We are learning more and more everyday and never want to stop changing and tweaking. I think the biggest goal we have for this next year is to be able to set up a good system for giving back to Oakland. We not only want to partner with non-profits by the way of finances – we also want to pull from our awesome customer base and have them serve with us in these projects. That’s what Slojoy is all about – community and coffee. We want to do our best to stay true to keeping those two connected. Five years? We would definitely want to have our own space in Oakland at that point in time. Still roasting, still slinging cups one at a time and still giving back.
What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered?
I would say the biggest obstacle was fighting off the temptation to compromise. There are hundreds of decisions a week that you make. When you start making money and start getting into the day to day, it’s easy to forget why you started and what you wanted to accomplish. You start looking at the numbers and the bank statements and start forgetting the bigger vision. We didn’t start Slojoy to get rich, be famous or start the hippest coffee shop. We started it to spread the joy we have through Jesus and good coffee. Staying true to that when so many other things are there to pull you away is difficult. Staying true to the vision is essential and rewarding!
What advice do you have for new food entrepreneurs starting out?
If you aren’t willing to work the hardest you have ever worked for the least amount of immediate payback – don’t do it. Starting a business takes an inward drive and passion that keeps you moving forward even when all the odds are stacked against you. Make sure you enjoy it and make sure it involves helping and loving others – if it’s only about you, it’s not worth the effort.
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