Entrepreneur Jimmy Lewis is no stranger to selling. In 1979, he founded Squash Blossom, the first natural food grocery store in Memphis, but sold it 20 years later to Wild Oats Market when he left to work in commercial real estate. Now he’s back where his heart is, hoping to be a key player in the Memphis wholesale coffee-roasting scene.
His new business, Relevant Roasters, is open for business in a Broad Avenue Arts District warehouse. The sustainable, environmentally friendly coffee roaster doesn’t have set hours yet, but on Saturday morning Relevant Roasters will host its second open house until 11:30 a.m. Stop by for free tastings or purchase a 12-ounce bag of beans for $12.95.
A friend invited me to the roasters’ first soft opening last weekend. In a tucked-away warehouse at Broad Avenue and Tillman, we found mounds of green coffee beans from Nicaragua, Peru, Ethiopia and Sumatra in sacks stacked in a corner. But a shiny, new, top-of-the-line industrial coffee roaster commanded my attention.
A crowd surrounded the machine in action, as it spun and heated the beans. Roaster and operation specialist Micaela Watts demonstrated how the roaster worked. Every other minute she pulled a metal tube containing a sample of beans from the vat, checking the degree of roast by color and smell.
I had to squeeze in to get a peek, but when the whirling stopped, the rich, nutty aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans made me take a deep, appreciative inhale.
We sampled single-origin coffees from Nicaragua and Sumatra, and I caught up with Lewis to find out why the sudden switch from commercial real estate to local wholesale coffee supplier. Turns out he credits yoga.
“One of my big takes on life work from practicing yoga is in part identifying what you want to do and doing it,” he said.
And for him, commercial real estate wasn’t it. Lewis explained he’s always been passionate about coffee and “the roasting efforts by guys here could stand another player.”
Lewis also said Relevant Roasters will be an environmentally sustainable coffee roaster, only sourcing beans from farmers who hire fair-trade workers. His Loring state-of-the-art coffee roaster is four times more energy efficient than traditional coffee roasters, Lewis said.
The roaster is pretty high-tech too. The machine’s computerized system allows the operator to record each batch, calculating key variables — heat and time — to optimize roasts and create signature blends. And it’s environmentally sealed. One hundred degrees or 20 degrees outside, the machine doesn’t know the difference.
For now, Relevant Roasters hopes to hit shelves at Whole Foods and Fresh Market and get in on the restaurant and dining scene. Tart, a French bistro in Cooper-Young, is the first restaurant to pick up the line for their menu.
But for the future? Hopefully a café, Lewis said. Like any great roast or perfect cup of coffee, Lewis is in no hurry.
Relevant Roasters is hosting its second soft opening Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Relevant Roasters, 584 Tillman, Suite 1 (901-458-5599)