In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’ character breaks down the modern coffee shop – “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”
That’s deep, Tom.
One local Beaver Dam coffee roaster puts a different spin on the business. “We are passionate about coffee. We like the social aspect – the people aspect of coffee,” said Josiah Vilmin, co-owner of Nunatak Coffee Roasters and Black Waters Coffee. Josiah explained that in starting the business, his family was drawn to the romance of coffee and the community it creates.
“It made a lot of sense,” said Josiah. “It is a business we could enjoy and picture ourselves doing for a long time. But we’re an entrepreneurial family. We needed to be able to earn a living and grow as well.”
Just after finishing college in 2003, Josiah and his mother Glenna began working on the idea of creating a coffee roasting company. The business was based in their home at the beginning, but eventually operations expanded to a Beaver Dam headquarters. And in 2008, the Black Waters Coffee Bar and Café opened on South Center Street – featuring the roaster’s flagship brand as the name of the coffee shop.
The business has three main divisions – production, distribution and retail operations.
In production, coffee beans are brought in from all over the world and roasted to fulfill an inventory of high quality Single Origin and Blended coffees – totaling nearly one million cups of coffee last year. Some of the largest batches are sent off site to be contract roasted. Many brands, such as the Blue Goose Coffee Blend, are custom roasted in small batches right in Beaver Dam. Black Waters Coffee is distributed throughout the entire state and upper Michigan to cafés, convenience stores and commercial accounts – businesses who serve the coffee to their customers and staff. The distribution division of their business involves not just the selling of coffee but many other products like syrups, sauces, creamers and cups.
When Josiah and Glenna take on a new café customer, their focus is to do what they can to ensure the success of the café serving Black Waters Coffee. They offer marketing assistance as well as assist with implementation and efficiencies to help improve profitability. Their 6,000 square foot facility not only houses the roasting and distribution operations; there is also an area for servicing a variety of commercial brewing equipment. In addition, Glenna is working on the development of a commercial kitchen that will be able to produce, package, and freeze a variety of baked goods; like those currently sold in the Black Waters Café.
Since the start of their café in 2008, Josiah says Black Waters Coffee has always recognized the importance of community. The café is housed in one of the city’s longest standing buildings – an old freight train depot. And Josiah says community has always been “part of our DNA. Community is important for our business,” he explained. “You need a community like you need a family.”
It only makes sense that a community bank would make a good fit. Black Waters Coffee worked with Paul Huebner on the purchase of their production facility. “Our experience with Horicon Bank has been very pleasant,” Josiah said. “Banking is like many other industries – some do things better than others. And that’s easy to see over the last decade especially. Horicon Bank is in the business of lending, and they are very good at it.”
Since their initial purchase of their production facility, Josiah and Glenna’s relationship with Horicon Bank has grown in more ways than one. In February, the Blue Goose Coffee House in Fond du Lac began serving Black Waters Brand Coffees. Back in 2013, the bank had started talking to Josiah about switching to the locally roasted coffee as a way to improve the café. Eventually, Ruth and Caroline Schwertfeger helped taste test the new Blue Goose Blend Coffee now served in the coffee house. “It’s a very sophisticated, delicious cup of coffee,” said Josiah.
From the man who helps roast one million cups of coffee a year? We’ll take the compliment.