Below is an interview that I (Sean Benesh) did with another mountain bike brand a few months ago. I’ve long been hesitant to talk about me or feature me because I want all attention and focus to be on Loam Coffee. I’m out to build a brand, not my own platform. With that said, the interview will give you more context and background about Loam Coffee. Even more, there will be deeper connection to the voice you hear once our podcast is launched. Hope you enjoy …
Background - A little background on you and your business
Loam Coffee is a coffee roasting company in Portland, Oregon where our motto is “promoting mountain biking through coffee, stories, and stoke.” I started it in 2015 really as a way to fund a mountain bike guiding company I wanted to launch. However, things took off, word spread, people were finding us and resonating with what we’re doing, and all of a sudden came the realization … “wow, this is so much fun!” The focus shifted solely to coffee.
Currently we’re a small batch-roaster roasting coffee and shipping it all over the world. It grew out of who I am as a mountain biker. I didn’t want to just be another coffee roaster. That’s why we spend time also telling stories, writing articles, and will soon be launching a podcast which focuses on the intersection of coffee, mountain biking, and culture. Starting Loam Coffee had to true to me and my love for mountain biking. Long before moving to the Pacific Northwest I was a singlespeed XC rider. Since then I’ve picked up goggles, knee pads, and use the word “enduro” a lot.
What and when was the dream/spark that started it all?
The dream was birthed in the parched Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona about 14-15 years ago. I was working as a mountain biking guide and began kicking around the idea of a combining a coffee shop and bike shop. That was long before I knew anything of roasting coffee. Between taking people out into the desert I was dreaming of what this would or could look like. I didn’t even like coffee back then but loved the whole coffee shop scene and hanging out there (drinking sugary mochas). That was the seed for idea of bringing together coffee and the mountain biking community.
What made you take that giant leap?
After moving to Portland I came across an economics book written by a local Portland State University professor called Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy. With a group of PhD and Masters students he looked at what makes Portland’s artisan or maker economy distinct as well as how it fits into the broader economic changes within Post-Fordism. Each chapter dealt with different industries from beer to coffee and many more. What inspired me was that so many businesses started “just because.” Not only that, but there’s was a sense of “calling” or being “compelled” to do this .... “I must.” With little to no money these artisan startups came onto the scene (and continue to do so).
I was inspired by these stories and examples so I thought, “Why wait?” And so with no money and really no idea how to do this I simply started. Since then I’ve been figuring things out on the fly.
What were you doing previous to this (or indeed still doing)?
I think this is the fun part of my own story and journey. I feel as though my life has been an odd fusion of sorts, like Korean tacos. Part of my story entails working in academia. I recall having my eyes opened to the injustices I saw all around me in the city. That sent me down the path of academia getting my first doctorate in non-profit community development with part of my coursework in China. I then started working on a second doctorate in urban studies before I pulled the plug on that. Currently my “day “job” is a professor and I’m also involved in community and economic development through leading trainings and workshops.
How many hours per week do you work on this business?
In my commitment to grow this from the ground up with no loans nor massive debt it has been one step at a time. On top of my day job I still work 10-30 hours a week on Loam Coffee (depending on the week).
What's the best part of your job?
That’s difficult to answer succinctly. I love the branding process of Loam Coffee because it allows me to connect with people all over the world. From the beginning my goal was to build a “global brand,” meaning, we’d have connections and friendships with people anywhere and everywhere mountain biking is enjoyed. Through that to be part of a number of mountain bike races in places like Oaxaca, Mexico or Costa Rica is very meaningful. And that’s what it comes down to … people. The relationships are what matter the most.
What is the worst part of your job?
Saying no. My inbox is filled with requests to sponsor this race or that event. It is actually hard for me to say no. Why? Because I want to be involved in more, but I also know I need to not get too far ahead of ourselves. Saying no then represents for me that we’re not where we need to be in terms of growth and expansion.
What lessons have you learned?
Don’t compare. I know that’s a lesson we all should’ve learned in junior high but we still play the comparison game. It ends up being really self-defeating and even disheartening. I need to keep reminding myself that there’s only one Loam Coffee. My job is for us to be the best us that we can be. Comparing can tear that apart.
What advice would you offer others?
Be you. Authenticity as a brand is key. That’s also difficult. In an age where we’re constantly bombarded by so many mixed messages and notifications on social media it’s challenging to cut through the noise and keep your core intact. There’s temptation to grow too quickly or get in over our heads with massive debt. But I keep telling myself that I’m growing something that I want (and am!) to be proud of and where I’d want to work myself. That brings me back to the truth of simply being me. And I can only do that. Only you can do that. Loam Coffee then is an extension of who I am.