Fresh Cup spoke with various coffee industry professionals at the 2018 Golden Bean North America competition and conference, which commenced September 19–22 in Portland. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing their stories.
For more of Fresh Cup’s Golden Bean coverage, including behind-the-scenes photos and a list of winners, click here.
Keith Feigin is no stranger to the Golden Bean. President and co-founder of this year’s Overall Winner, Black Oak Coffee Roasters, based out of Ukiah, California, Feigin and his team have participated in GBNA since 2016, where they won in three categories.
“We were really surprised, just being from such a small town and sending these coffees off to a place we never heard of,” he says.
After the 2016 competition, Head Bean Sean Edwards visited Black Oak and invited them to not only submit again, but attend the Golden Bean the following year—a year that would prove even more rewarding, as they were named Overall Winner.
Maintaining that streak this year, the Black Oak team took home numerous medals and earned the title Overall Winner, alongside Bonlife Coffee.
CP: Coming from a small town, how has your community responded to your Golden Bean success?
KF: It’s really cool to be able to go out and represent your town in a big city with a bunch of other really amazing and accomplished peers in the industry, and come back with an award to represent your hometown. There’s definitely a lot of pride in that, and I think the public of Ukiah, they give us a lot of support. I’ve heard people go out and say, ‘Yeah we have a roastery in Ukiah, they win awards in national competitions!’ I think it’s nice to hear.
CP: What’s the history of Black Oak?
KF: It was another coffee shop and roastery that was going out of business. We came in and took it over in November of 2012. We rebranded a little bit, installed some new equipment, and away we went.
CP: How long have you been in the industry?
KF: I was a beekeeper, I was operating a beekeeping and honey packaging business and so November 2012 was my introduction to the coffee industry. My motivation behind it was that it was just a really ideally located coffee shop and roastery in our hometown where I grew up, and when I found out that it was going out of business, I just saw it as an opportunity to finally realize my longtime dream-slash-complaint of not having a great community café and coffee roastery in Ukiah. I think we’ve definitely exceeded my expectations there, and really my motivation was just to keep a community coffee shop going and bring a community café to my hometown. We also happen to be roasting some world-class coffee, so that’s good too.
CP: Why do we keep hearing “community” in relation to coffee?
KF: When I was growing up our town was fairly isolated. The population is small, so we would travel out of town to visit cool coffee shops…. We would go to these locally owned cafés that were playing live music, or had these great art hangings, or beatnik poetry, and there was always this very vibrant cultural scene in these coffee houses that were really inspiring…. You heard a lot of complaints about Ukiah not really having these types of things, so I always really wanted to help make Ukiah a more sophisticated place, so to speak, and bring that to the community. For me, coffeehouses are gathering places for everybody in your town, from architects to lawyers, people from all walks of life. It’s a community gathering place—I think that’s at the heart of it.
CP: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry?
KF: We’re seeing a lot of cafés opening…. A lot of roasters that I know in the Bay Area and even up here in the Pacific Northwest are expanding like crazy, building out, in some cases, one café every six months, which is incredible. We’re almost six years in and still at our single location, and that’s a lot to handle. It’s amazing to see how efficient they are at building out locations.
Also, with the tech industry, we are close to Silicon Valley, geographically, so we’re seeing the tech industry grow and change, and they’re hiring their own culinary teams and beverage teams, so all of the beverage services and kitchens and chefs are all in-house or managed by outside firms that come in and curate all food and beverage needs. That’s a really fascinating business we’re seeing emerge, and it has a lot of implications for coffee as well.
CP: What are some of the biggest problems for café owners?
KF: Staff. Staffing is a huge challenge, training staff adequately, really empowering your people to be engaged—I think it’s a big challenge. Where we’re located, the labor pool is quite small, so we try to focus hard on the development of employees through training and a positive culture in the café and in the roastery.
In addition, like I said earlier with all cafés opening, there’s more competition out there, a lot more brands to choose from. The accessibility the consumer has via social media, and just with options, it really comes down to the story that you’re telling and your community.
CP: What is your favorite thing about the industry?
KF: The people. The Golden Bean is a great event—there’s a lot of really wonderful people here. The reason I’m here is just to come and see my coffee friends, really just the camaraderie that you cultivate with them is amazing, and to be able to talk to other folks that are going through similar problems and are in the same boat…it’s just nice to know there are other people out there like you that are doing similar things. This ties back to where we’re located—we have no other roasteries in the area, so to come out to meet other coffee people is inspiring for us and definitely keeps us going. There’s some really wonderful folks in the business, and I just I love them.
CP: Any final thoughts?
KF: Come to the Golden Bean and check it out. Meet some really great folks and network and grow yourselves as professionals. I highly recommend it to anyone in the coffee business.
But also…it takes a team. I want to make it clear that I’m not here to take credit for the awards that my roastery has won, because it was definitely a group effort between a lot of individuals: my business partner John Frech, and roaster Steve Cuevas, and our beverage director and quality control director Tom Chandler, who played a huge role in getting us where we got to at Golden Bean in 2017 and 2016, and our production manager Mckenzie [Alexander], just our entire team. It’s all a group effort and I just want to make sure that credit is given where credit is due. I’m very appreciative of my team.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.