Find them online and buy their coffee at yellowdogroasters.com!
|Dave Smithman roasts for Yellow Dog Coffee Roasters on his home property in Manahawkin, New Jersey. Oakley, the Yellow Dog namesake, accompanies Dave to the roastery on production days when he’s not focused on his other job–watching the chickens.
Setting the Scene
Dave came to coffee after he started working nights in the late 2010s. While the habit started as a method to get through long midnight shifts, he picked up an interest in coffee as a craft somewhere along the way. The interest became a hobby when he began home-roasting on an old popcorn popper and shared the results with friends and family, who loved his coffee and encouraged him to grow the operation into a business.
He heeded their advice, and moved up from the popcorn popper to a small electric roaster. Experiments on the roaster, coupled with research online, gave him enough know-how that starting a business was now feasible. He decided to launch the operation publicly, taking his products to local events and setting up an eshop.
In June of 2022, he sold his first bag of Yellow Dog coffee.
The Way Up
Dave ordered his MCR-2, 2 kilogram roaster in the summer of 2022, installing it in his garage and storing greens alongside it.
As the company has lifted from the ground, he’s made sure to take his original hobby-roasting mentality with him into the commercial sphere. “I’m aiming for a slow grow,” he says. Because the business is currently a supplement to Dave’s full-time job, it’s important that every aspect of Yellow Dog remains controllable. That said, he does foresee the company becoming his professional priority in the coming years, and is using these early stages to lay the groundwork for a measured progression.
Since the operation went commercial, Dave has found it a new social outlet. He finds himself interacting with more people and forging new relationships, something he didn’t normally do pre-Yellow Dog. “I would never go to events as a patron, but it’s different to be a vendor,” he says. “I’ve met new people and made new friends.”
As part of his new involvement in the community, Dave has had to learn how to interact with people as a business, rather than a consumer. “I like being on the other side of the business,” he says–he likes fostering a welcoming space at events where people don’t necessarily feel pressured into spending money.
Because Yellow Dog is currently supported by Dave’s full-time job, the operation has more flexibility in its focus. Dave is taking advantage of that by building the Yellow Dog brand first, and ensuring it’s recognizably friendly and approachable. Once the brand’s aesthetic is in place, Dave will lay the groundwork for scaling in both wholesale and customer orders.
Because his focus is mainly on the social side of the brand, Dave has found ways to puzzle in coffee education for his Manahawkin customer base. To keep things approachable and welcoming, he doesn’t try to pressure customers into learning. “I try to read the room,” he says. “If someone is interested, I give them more information.”
The biggest challenge Dave foresees coming is the leap from being a roaster after-hours to becoming a roaster full-time. The key component in that jump will be moving the roastery from the garage into a commercial space. That change will not only add space for storage, packaging, and shipping, but it will also legitimize the company as a professional venture. When that change is on the horizon, Dave will take the opportunity to leave his current job and drive Yellow Dog into a new era.
To prepare for that moment, Dave has already begun planning, work that includes streamlining the roasting process as well as pursuing bigger wholesale accounts.
Alongside the planning, Dave also faces the challenge of shipping costs, which keeps most of his regular sales local. In town, delivery is free: for surrounding towns, Dave charges a small fee. But elsewhere, he must find ways of balancing shipping costs with increasing freight prices without alienating his customers.
The Yellow Dog Coffee Roasters Menu
Yellow Dog Coffee Roasters serves four menu items, all sourced through La Bodega. 1749, a washed Colombia dark roast, comes from the Nariño region, known for bold and chocolatey flavors. Then there’s Crooked Creek, a medium Colombia and Peru blend; Wooden Jetty, a light Ethiopia natural, and Green Head, a medium blend of Costa Rica and Ethiopia.
Green Head was the most recent addition, and it marks the beginning of Yellow Dog’s seasonal menu. Originally, the plan was to swap it out for the winter months, but due to its strong sales Dave has considered keeping it on the lineup for longer. Finding the balance between mainstays and seasonals is just one more piece of the business puzzle, especially since Dave’s favorite part of the process is roasting and tasting new samples to fit into the menu.
Because the majority of Manahawkiners prefer ease of access and predictable tastes, Dave doesn’t foresee many microlots or experimental roasts on the seasonal menu. After Green Head, he will find a new green with crowd-pleasing potential, possibly a natural from Central America or Africa.
The Yellow Dog Coffee Roasters customer base is split 80/20; the majority, Dave says, come to his company for coffee because it is fresh, local, and available. This crew prefers daily drinkers to experimental lots, and they also focus their attention on coffee flavor over finer details like altitude. To strike a balance between these buyers and the twenty percent who prefer to have more information, Dave opted for simple packaging and put coffee specs instead on the website. That way, customers can find what they’re looking for without being overloaded.
The next move for Yellow Dog Coffee Roasters will be a new roasting facility. Once the roaster has been moved into a dedicated space, Dave believes there will be more momentum for the company to overtake his full-time job as daily priority. Until then, Dave will work on Yellow Dog’s branding and menu, refine his roasting technique, and sample new greens from La Bodega to find the next seasonal.
Bring Yellow Dog Coffee Roasters Home
You can find the whole Yellow Dog lineup on their website. If you’re in New Jersey, stop by Dolce Bagel in Barnegat to find Yellow Dog coffee retail as well as on drip; you can also find it in Little Egg Harbor at Shooters Sporting Center and at My Three Sons Market.