Caryn: Hi, I’m Caryn Nelson, and I’m the co-founder and co-owner of Junior’s Roasted Coffee and Guilder, which is a café.
Mike: My name is Mike Nelson, I am a co-founder and partner.
Kandace: How long has Junior’s been around?
Caryn: We just celebrated our three year anniversary. We started Junior’s in 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida, actually. We were living there while Mike was in a doctoral program at Florida State.
Previously, we were living in New York. When we decided to move to Florida, we were a little hesitant about making that move to NW Florida…to a place we didn’t know anyone. We actually didn’t know anyone within a four state radius.
Mike was gonna be going into a program that was in geography, but he was studying under a professor who was interested in his previous research in coffee pest and disease and wanted to continue that research in Indonesia actually. Decided to pursue that program, but wanted to start roasting coffee as a way to get to know the community and have a project on the side in case we didn’t make any friends while we were there. We had something to do. But really, as a way to share our interest and his craft with a new community. A,nd that actually worked out pretty well.
Kandace: That’s a way to make friends, right?
Mike: It really is.
Our partners are Toby Roberts, who Mike and I met when we were working at a student-run café at Portland State, called Food for Thought. We all worked there together in 2003, 2004.
Is that how you know us?
Kandace: I spent so much time at that café.
Caryn: That’s awesome.
Mike: Wait, really?
Kandace: Yeah, I did. In fact, I was telling Ray that my friends and I would all go there for lunch every, and this was 2003, 2004, 2005. That’s where I remember sitting in that café. You had some kind of great special where you could pick sides or something. I don’t know what it was, but we were obsessed with going there.
Caryn: It was so affordable, cheap, affordable.
Kandace: Yes, and I had met Ray. I remember walking in, my friends were all waiting, and I was like, “I just met the greatest guy.” We were there all the time, so I feel like we must have met.
Caryn: Yeah, I’m sure.
Mike: Food for Thought is where I got into coffee in the first place…starting doing a Stumptown training, and cupped coffee, and that was it. Food for Thought to me was the coolest place in the world.
Being a barista was gonna be the coolest thing in the world, but then I cupped coffee and it changed everything.
Caryn: Mike met our fourth partner, Carrie Lind, working at Stumptown downtown, so that’s where they originally connected.
Caryn: Before Florida, when we were thinking about this idea of roasting, the idea was that it would be a project that the two of us would be involved in, we don’t have kids or plan to, so we wanted something that was reflective of us, and being able to contribute to something together that will hopefully last a long time.
Kandace: Thus Junior’s?
Caryn: Thus Junior’s. Junior’s was also the name of the one-and-a-half kilo Proaster that we started roasting on, so it was Junior’s Roasted Coffee.
When we came up with the name, we knew that Portland had Junior’s Café, but we’re like, “We’re not gonna be in Portland, we’re gonna start this thing in Florida.” So it was fine at the time. And then, coming back, and originally we were only looking to open a roastery space, not a café.
We had pursued a location in North Portland that fell through at the end of last year. And then, we were introduced to the space in the Line Building on 24th and Fremont, and could not not have a café there. We were signing the lease, and chatting about the owners, about how they have a few different companies, and how they decide on their legal name. One of their names was Inconceivable, and we’re like, “Oh, are you fans of Princess Bride? Because we are, we actually played it at our wedding.” And they’re like, “Oh, we played it at our wedding too.” We’re 10 years apart in age, kind of random.
Science of Sustainability
Kandace: Have you applied some of what you were studying to roasting, or to your business?
Mike: Yeah. What I was studying before Florida State was sustainability science and I had used coffee as my every case study—every paper that I wrote—just because it was always so difficult for me to separate research and coffee.
At Florida State University, it was getting very specific, my research focus on coffee leaf rust and climate change impacts. Towards the end of my time at Florida State University, I started focusing on the cost of production…the cost to produce a pound of green coffee at origin.
The more I started digging into this topic, the more I was realizing there is very little out there in the industry and how it’s just been this thing, this elephant in the room. So leaving FSU, I wanted to have it be a central focus of our own roasting company. Focus on cost of production, get involved in projects focused around cost of production. And actually work with producers to focus on the cost to produce, and base our contracts on that cost itself. In addition to those projects, also want to host events and lectures and workshops at the café.
Kandace: What effect does that have, the cost of production? You were saying you wanted to focus on that, what does that mean for us to know that, what would that change if we knew what it cost to produce? Would coffee cost more or less, would producers get more, what’s the impact of that?
Mike: The impact is the conversation, and it certainly it’s a slippery slope because once you start talking about the costs at origin—all of those costs—you as a company have to start thinking about your own cost. If you’re going to share those costs at origin, you have to open your own books. It’s a very scary thing to do. But the goal is to raise consumer awareness of just how costly it is to produce a pound of roasted coffee, from the roaster’s aspect, from the roaster’s standpoint to the producer’s standpoint.
I think that we should be paying more for coffee.
And, I think that most roasters would agree with me on that one. I don’t know if consumers would agree with me on that one just yet, but we’ve been saying that for a while. I want to be able to show why, and open those numbers, and show people those numbers in a very show-able way, rather than showing spreadsheets, want to digest this and say, “Okay, this is why it matters.” Because the reality is that most producers are running their businesses at a loss, that the prices paid to producers actually don’t cover the cost of production.
There are agricultural extension organizations focusing on this topic, the Specialty Coffee Association is starting to look at this topic, but again, there’s a lot of money at stake with this trade. It’s all been quite vague up until this point, so we want to be very specific and very transparent with these numbers.
Caryn: Also, I think we’re definitely inspired by other maybe medium sized companies, not even medium, we’re all tiny companies, but the Coffee Collective’s work on transparency, Counter Culture, just recently Onyx Coffee Lab put out a lot of information on their website. There’s folks that are diving into it and that’s awesome.
Mike: Our hope is that others would see what we’re doing and want to do it too, so rather than having it be some sort of marketing scheme, we want to do it to educate consumers, but also make a positive impact in the whole supply chain.
Kandace: Can you start out by telling us who you are and what you do and life story? No, just who you are.
Liz: The whole life story?
Kandace: Just who you are and what you do.
Liz: I can do that. You probably don’t want me to.
Liz: I’m Liz Chai. I am a coffee graphic designer.
Kandace: Nice. And did you indeed design this coffee package here?
Liz: I did. And I have a focus on illustration, so I was allowed to bring that out in this particular project, which was really exciting for me ’cause I love illustration.
Kandace: Yeah. Can you tell us a bit about what you were thinking of with the branding?
Liz: Yeah, absolutely. The branding … When I first met Mike and Caryn and we talked about the idea of what Junior’s was and what it represented, it really made a lot of sense for me to treat it as sort of envisioning it as their baby. So I brought in some playful elements to imagine Junior’s as their little child, sort of imagining the imagination of a child.
There’s a modular element to the branding. There’s actually not one single logo for them, they can variate the logo in countless ways by moving the letters around, which I even did in the packaging which you can kind of see. It changes on every package.
So there are certain elements that are fixed. The type for Junior’s and then the type for Roasted Coffee, and then it all kind of gets to move around. That was also sort of a nod to Scandinavian design as well, which we all have a love of. So I injected that into it.
The color palette and the lettering was meant to be like the playfulness of a child.
Liz: Because Junior’s has a specific goal in mind with working with producers, we decided each producer would get it’s own package. So, currently, we have three that were printed, but we’re gonna max it out I think at seven or nine. So, again, this also works with the identity. There are seven colors that we have as part of the branding, and there are some grays as well that we use.
There’s a lot of thought put into when you’re allowed to use certain colors, but as of right now, they’re mostly jewel tones. We have some teals, we have some purples, we have some blues. I think we’re working with three right now, and once they add producers to their roster, each will get its own illustration.
Kandace: I read somewhere that there are something like 40 variations of the identity.
Liz: Are there?
Caryn: I counted.
Kandace: You did?
Kandace: Somebody counted this.
Liz: Well, it might be seven, but then in variations of colors of each of those seven or something.
Kandace: Yeah. I mean, you can definitely tell there’s an order to the brand, which is nice because there’s something about it that’s both playful, but also orderly, which is actually really hard to nail. It’s hard to find that balance without it all just feeling haphazard, but somehow you figured out how to lock it down, and I think that does come from a massive amount of organization and thinking about it.
I was actually just reading something today where a designer was talking about how important it is that designers talk about their process and how much thought there is behind what they’re doing. In some ways so people can see the difference between that and just throwing something up there. And sometimes you’ll look at those two things and you’ll know they feel different, but it’s hard to tell why. And then when you start to realize that there are a lot of rules and thought behind it, it’s like, “Oh. Yeah. That’s the difference.”
Liz: I also really like surprises and surprising people. So there are a lot of elements of the packaging, the whole system, that Mike and Caryn didn’t really know about. (laughs)
Kandace: Right. (laughs)
Liz: I like to surprise and delight, so when I have been revealing bits and pieces of the thought that went into each illustration and the whole system, it’s been kind of fun to see their reaction. And I think they have somebody doing some carpentry work for them who is a friend, and he noticed something about the design and mentioned it to them, that the nine-sided polygon is actually modeled after a personality typing system called the Enneagram. And when I was building the brand I definitely had that in mind, and each of the numbers on the nine-sided polygon represent something. I was using each of Mike and Caryn’s personality to create the identity for their offspring or their child. So what that child represents. And the packaging, too. Each illustration is sort of supposed to represent the imagination of this little child, this offspring, and it has bits of their personality built into it as well.
Kandace: Very cool.
Liz: Little secrets. (laughs)