"We are a roasting family," says Joe Wells, founder of Island Joe's Coffee in Key West. And it's more true now than ever.
Island Joe's, which started out as home roasted coffee sold at the Shell gas station in Marathon that Joe owned for about three years, is now a full-blown coffee roasting company, winning top reviews from the world's top coffee critics, and sold in major stores. And more than ever before, the kids are the ones running the business. Brandon, age 17, a senior this year at Key West High School, has spent his summer roasting coffee, rolling out of bed at 6 a.m. when needed to go to the Fleming Street coffee shop and work at roasting coffee beans to fill orders. About three years ago, he developed a coffee called Beemers Breakfast Blend. It's now one of the top-selling Island Joe's coffees. And he's also now handling some of the small company's big accounts - including the Whole Foods account.
Brandon, his father says, was the first one to push the start button on the new roasting machine he bought in about 2005. And at about age 10, he was the one at home with his father when Joe Wells first started experimenting with roasting his own coffee.
"My goal would be for Brandon to run this whole thing," says Joe. But Brandon would have help.
Joe's daughter, A.J, age 13, also works at Island Joe's Coffee, helping Brandon bag whole roasted beans to be shipped out to customers, and working behind the counter in the café, making specialty coffee drinks and serving sandwiches.
And then there's Trey.
Trey Wells is a 21-year-old college junior at University of South Florida in Tampa, where he's majoring in accounting. But he's taken the reins of Island Joe's Coffee in a big way over the last couple of years. He's the president of the company, and works in the business full time during the summers, handling the accounts with Publix, Sysco Foods and Winn-Dixie.
Are the boys coffee drinkers? Sometimes. They don't drink it every day, they say. But both Trey and Brandon have become adept at tasting coffee -- what's called in the business, "cupping." These guys know coffee -- how it's supposed to taste, what makes the foam on the top of the brewed coffee slightly reddish in color. And they can tell Island Joe's Coffee from any other coffee in the world, anytime.
The opening of the café at 519 Fleming St. in April of this year has given the second generation coffee roasters an added level of interest. Brandon, Trey and A.J. all helped design the menu, and each came up with one or two of the specialty coffee drinks - served hot or cold or frozen.
And the boys did most of the heavy lifting this spring when the business was moved from Southard Street to Fleming last spring. Trey was charged with designing a pipe that leads from the roaster, through an oxidizer, up through the roof, to let the steam out of the building. The café, says Joe, is just a start.
"In a year and a half I'll be franchised. We're building cookie cutter. That's what this is to us."
The second generation of Island Joe's Coffee, it seems, will never want for work.
Steve Lohr is a reporter for The New York Times on technology, business and economics. In 2013, he was a member of the team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting
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