Trail Creek Coffee Roasters in Kasson, MN

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Find them online and buy their coffee at trailcreekcoffeeroasters!

Facebook: @trailcreekcoffee

For Jim Whitmarsh, Mondays and Tuesdays are espresso roasting days. He heads into the Trail Creek Coffee roastery in Kasson, Minnesota, and roasts everything else per order. The commercial space, which is under construction, is hectic now, but will soon be optimized for a much bigger production of coffee. Both Jim and Crystal are looking forward to when all the dust of renovation clears and their space can meet the task of feeding and running their new MCR-10, 10 Kilogram roaster.
Setting the Scene

Around 2014, Crystal and Jim Whitmarsh started giving away bags of popcorn-popper-roasted coffee as gifts for christmas and birthdays. They started as hobbyists, intrigued initially by an MSN story about how to home-roast your own coffee.

For Crystal, coffee was always her default drink. While studying at Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan, she spent considerable amounts of time in Siberia Cafe doing homework and visiting with friends. Jim also frequented the cafe while in school at Michigan Tech University.

She and Jim started dating in 2004 and got married in 2006. When Jim started on the popcorn poppers, she realized that coffee could have more depth than the syrupy drinks she’d relied on while getting her degree. When her first son was born, coffee was her go-to to get through long days and nights.

The Whitmarshes came to Mill City Roasters looking for a more consistent alternative to their collection of popcorn poppers, which by 2016 totaled three. Their foray into a professional roaster marked the true beginning of Trail Creek Coffee Roasters.

The Way Up

They landed on an MCR-1, 1 kilogram roaster after a trip to Minneapolis to see the equipment and talk through the decision. They ordered the machine in 2016, and sold their first roast in 2017.

Fast-forwarding to 2022, the Whitmarshes have just leveled up to a MCR-10 for production roasting. They use the MCR-1 for sample roasting, but remember how important it was for the beginning of their business. “We wouldn’t have many wholesale accounts without it,” Jim says.

Since the business has taken off, Jim now runs Trail Creek Coffee Roasters full-time. Crystal, who has a full-time job at the Mayo Clinic in the Neurological Department, keeps one foot in the corporate world while also focusing on Trail Creek’s social media and marketing efforts.

When they started, they found it difficult to form a plan off the bat. “It seemed kind of silly to put a business plan together before knowing what to expect,” Crystal says. Instead, they laid out a list of reasonable and attainable goals, using that to guide their business expansion. Their list included things like “visit a farm” and “move into a commercial space.” Their biggest goal? Open a cafe within the first five years.

Of course, not long after they got going, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and rocked the whole operation. They had to pivot a bit; instead of solidifying plans for a cafe, they built a coffee cart and started doing pop-ups, using that time as an opportunity to give customers their coffee in a cup rather than a bag.

In the beginning, they worked under cottage laws and roasted in the garage. Now, two years later, they can look back on those days from a comfortable seat in their commercial roasting space.

“It’s cool to see the progress that we’ve made,” Crystal says.

The Trail Creek Coffee Roasters Menu

Trail Creek Coffee Roasters uses Cafe Imports for all of their greens because of its proximity to the space, and also simply because everyone recommended them. The Whitmashes cite customer service and sample request size as other important factors in their relationship.

With eight core products on the menu, they also rotate out seasonals as well as roast coffees specifically for fundraisers. Most of the time they work to keep everything in season, to keep costs down.

As they’ve narrowed down their market, their products and profiles have changed a bit. “We’re finding our customer base is more of a medium roast ,” Crystal says. Trail Creek Coffee carries dark as well, but they’ve seen a decrease in demand for it as a middle ground seemed to appeal more widely than anything else.

Their bestselling coffee is the Tanzania Peaberry. People love the coffee and the name: “It’s exotic,” Jim says. “They always want more.” Personally, he loves their Ethiopia Guji, for its easy roasting profile. He has an attention to detail that makes roasting a great occupation for him; both regular roasts as well as new samples give him a wealth of sensory cues to tune in to. Even the Peru, his most challenging roast, which always tries to crash after first crack, can be steered.

Where They’re Going

Since getting the MCR-10 installed in their space, the next move for Trail Creek Coffee Roasters is renovation. Space is their main constraint at the moment, as well as time: they don’t yet have enough work for a full-time employee to come on, but it’s close.

They’ll have to prepare to share the work with an employee who wasn’t a founder. “Navigating those changes and handing off is hard,” Jim says.

If the business were to rapidly scale, Crystal might consider decreasing her hours and spending more time on Trail Creek. But she likes her job with Mayo Clinic, and she’s good at it. And Jim is happy heading their roasting business: “since he started roasting full time, happier and more joyful,” Crystal says. Now, with an increased roasting capacity and a soon-to-be renovated roasting space, Jim will have a better vantage point from which to see where to go from here.

The biggest item on the goals list–opening a coffee shop in the first five years–is still something that both Jim and Crystal want to do. With three years left before the original timeline ends, they have room to grow into their roastery and start mapping out the future. Maybe, Jim says, that map might lead them to an MCR-20, 20 kilogram roaster.

Where to Buy

If you’re looking for retail bags, Trail Creek Coffee can be found in five Minnesota Hy-Vees. You can also pick up a bag during the Saturday Rochester Downtown Farmers Market, or in three other shops in Rochester–Roasted Bliss, St. James Coffee, and Christos Bookcenter. Brewed coffee is available at Papa’s Roast and Bear Paw Coffee in Byron, or Smiling Moose Coffee & Gifts in Kasson. You can also order a bag online from their website, as well as follow them on Facebook.

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