Crisp ocean air and a vehicle laden with goods from their coffee bean roasting relatives in Cali created the perfect environment for Colleen and her husband Jay to dream about becoming “roasters” themselves.
So on March 5, 2020, they took the plunge, opening Stone City Coffee Roasters (the name, a play on the words “Stony Brook,” the English form of the German “Steinbach”), excited to supply local cafes and restaurants with freshly roasted small-batch coffee.
With local shop Little Baking Company agreeing to be their first customer, Stone City had a perfect introduction to locals and a great start to growing their business.
Ten days later, cafes and restaurants were shuttered, leaving them to reimagine their business plan and life plan.
“The biggest hurdle was that I had just started the business, and I was trying to run it with no daycare and no school, trying to homeschool. That was just brutal. But we were determined. We had made this investment, so we weren’t going to give up.”
An uncomfortable time to ask cafes and restaurants to switch suppliers, they decided to go back to the one local retailer they had approached who said “no” to their product initially.
That’s when everything changed.
Colleen repositioned her offer to the reticent retailer removing any risk to the store of placing her display and trying fresh-roasted coffee sales again, hoping that the store would agree.
Colleen could exhale.
With this new exposure, an unwavering commitment to social media and their offer to deliver free to their customers, their business grew legs.
As her social following grew, so did online orders, proving the importance and prophetic foresight of making “free delivery” the backbone of their business plan.
People were surfing their social feeds like never before and couldn’t get out for their specialty coffee fix or shopping, as usual.
Stone City Coffee Roasters stepped right in.
Deliveries started with Colleen and nine-year-old son Damian who was paid ten cents per delivery run to each customer’s door.
Not only did delivery remove friction for new buyers, but it also provided a welcome outing and exercise for a young family restricted by COVID-19.
In May, a serendipitous sales call to their local Sobeys opened the door to Stone City becoming officially “listed,” requested by retailers in Steinbach and Winnipeg. It became the catalyst for Stone City to receive more calls for their coffee than they placed.
When summer arrived, so did a bigger roaster that had to run day and night.
When code red hit, online orders in the first month doubled what they had done all year, forcing them to hire to handle the deliveries.
The holidays proved fruitful as well.
Yet, as good as it has been, the fear that lurks in the back of their minds is that maybe this market isn’t realistic, and buying habits could change post-pandemic.
It’s just too hard to tell.
It’s been a wild ride since those days spent California dreaming. Looking in the rear-view mirror to 2020, Wohlgemuth has a marked appreciation for the importance of buying local.
“I’ve realized that supporting local has some amazing ripple effects. For us, in the summer of 2019, due to some unexpected expenses and a job restructuring for my husband, we couldn’t afford to eat out. But as our business has grown, we cannot only hire staff but also invest more in our local economy. Buying local is such a powerful thing to help our communities as a whole, not just independent businesses.”
Stone City Coffee can be found at many local retailers in Winnipeg and southeastern Manitoba. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram for great give-aways or visit their website to order.
Kaj Hasselriis is a cartoonist who lives, draws and shops in Winnipeg’s Exchange District. His new book is called …READ MORE
Venus Hair & Body Care, Neepawa MB
Even before lockdown in March 2020, fewer customers were passing through the doors of Venus Hair and Body Care…READ MORE
Have an idea for a business we should feature?
We’re always on the lookout for great local businesses to feature. Send us an email with your suggestions, and we may feature them in an upcoming story.