From where seed meets soil on Ohio farms to the processing facilities that dot the state, getting food from farm to plate is a group effort.
In all, about one in seven Ohioans are working in some facet of this industry, which is the state’s largest economic engine.
Ohio has long offered fertile ground for on-farm entrepreneurs—75,000 Ohioans are farming today—but many others are carving out a different place for themselves in a thriving food and agricultural sector.
Whether it’s the local mechanic keeping equipment running, an innovative businessman expanding international trade or a century-old family enterprise behind some of today’s best known brands, the following pages offer stories of Ohioans who are serving up new ideas as they build their business in the Buckeye State.
Inside Crimson Cup’s roasting facility, the company’s efforts to craft coffee are best described as legendary.
“Godzilla,” the largest of its roasters, takes in bags of beans to keep up with growing demand. The mid-sized “Little Red” handles the certified organic coffees. And a duo of small roasters, “Hansel and Gretel,” root the brand in its commitment to small-batch quality.
“Everyday we take the responsibility of producing awesome coffee because we know so much work has gone into it,” said Melissa Rogner, marketing director for the Columbus specialty coffee and tea business.
Some beans are simply roasted to satisfy the most sophisticated cuppers (coffee tasters); others are coated with flavors to meet the tastes of many grocery store customers. One station packages coffee in perfect proportions for big buyers such as hotels. Another metes grounds into single-serving capsules.
The high standards and business sense that have allowed the brand to succeed in so many market niches is just what you’d expect. What’s somewhat surprising is the purpose behind the product.
Rather than extend itself through an empire of coffee houses (the company operates just one), Crimson Cup is quick to point to another concept.
“Our goal is being connected to the community and being out there for the greater good,” Rogner said.
On this day, it’s just after 9 a.m. when two men walk through the facility’s front door. They’re here to learn more about how they can start their own coffee shop—not a franchise, but a business they will control.
Since its start in 1991, Crimson Cup has helped launch more than 250 independent coffee houses and small businesses across the nation.
“We thrive on helping others thrive. That’s truly our foundation,” Rogner said.
The prospective business owners who seek Crimson Cup’s consultation come from different backgrounds, according to Rogner, but often share a desire for a more meaningful way to earn a living.
“They’re just looking to be happy,” she said.
The model has paid off. The company now ships coffee to 28 states, supporting entrepreneurs who continue to rely on Crimson Cup’s products as well as business advice.
Crimson Cup founder Greg Ubert acknowledges that others were initially skeptical about this strategy, noting that franchising or licensing fees could be more lucrative.
“We wouldn’t be in the places where we are, where communities are very strong,” he counters.
The idea is that independent entrepreneurs in places from Norwalk, Ohio to Meridian, Miss. will be better able to serve their own unique communities. As Crimson Cup’s website puts it, “It’s about being the community coffee shop that connects people and gives back.”
The company is now going a step further to align this philosophy and its business practices through its Friend2Farmer program.
It recent years, it began purchasing some of its beans directly from small-plot farmers in hopes of improving their quality of life. That means better farming practices, higher quality processing and more educational opportunities in coffee growing communities. In turn, Crimson Cup has sustainable supplier relationships and an improved product.
It’s still yet to be seen if consumers at large will reward the company for this behind-the-scenes effort. Many are still focused on key factors such as quality and convenience.
However, there has been an exception.
Ubert said when he speaks at college campuses, young people seem to show an appreciation that Crimson Cup is about something more than just making money. As to whether he thinks he’s in position to capitalize on this interest in his brand’s values: “It’s certainly not by design,” Ubert said. “It’s just who we are.”
Published in the November/December 2014 Our Ohio magazine. Stay connected with and support great food and farm stories like this by becoming an Our Ohio Supporter. For just $25 you can stay connected with Ohio food and farm stories while supporting local foods and community outreach.