Commercial Coffee Roaster News, Customer Stories
Cabin Coffee: Charlie, Keith, and Teresa Sawatsky and Barking Irons Coffee Roastery
Charlie is the youngest Sawatsky son. Instead of taking up the baton of his father’s landscaping business, he followed him into specialty coffee. Now, he does the bulk of the roasting for Barking Irons Coffee Roastery.
The company is a family affair. Charlie’s dad Keith is the salesman, and mom Teresa is the floater; she fills orders, runs Barking Irons’ social media presence, and helps with popups out of the Barking Irons coffee truck.
The three Sawatskys operate their roastery out of their home, in a commercial barn addition in Chilliwack, British Columbia. The barn used to house a dairy farm; now, it houses Barking Irons’ MCR-6, 6 kilogram roaster, all of their green, and their packaging space.
Setting the Scene
Keith fired up Barking Irons after deciding to leave his landscape design business, which ran under his direction for twenty-six years. When he made the switch, he says, “I asked myself, what never stops in this world? Food, fuel, and coffee.” He started drawing up plans to enter the coffee industry, and he passed the landscape design business on to his two eldest sons.
Coffee was a much bigger industry than he’d initially thought. He did a lot of research before diving in, calling many microroasters, roasting manufacturers, and importers, both in British Columbia and elsewhere. That research took him to Mill City Roasters and the Roasting 101 class, where Barking Irons really started taking shape.
While Keith looked into coffee from above, Teresa saw it at eye level. When they rented a cabin in Winthrop, she saw a minibag of coffee on their pillow from a local roaster. She loved the idea of brewing a cup of specialty coffee that had been roasted locally; it felt more personal than its commodity counterpart. She wanted her own coffee on cabin pillows one day.
The Way Up
2020 was a big year for the Sawatskys. They took Mill City Roasters’ Roasting 101 class in Minneapolis. Then, four months later, they got an MCR-6 and got to work right away on giving out free coffee to generate interest and figure out their customer base. A year later, they officially started as a company.
In the Sawatsky’s landscaping business, Teresa worked often on hand-drawn designs for clients. When it came time to launch Barking Irons into a commercial venture, she worked with Minuteman Press in Chilliwack to create labels that aligned with their western aesthetic.
They use local importers Westcoast Coffee and Oughtred Coffee to keep shipping and transportation costs down, and to cut down on the amount of hands the coffee passes through before reaching Barking Irons.
Keith, it turns out, was right about coffee never stopping in this world. Despite debuting into the middle of the pandemic, they found demand for their coffee growing as they tweaked and matched their roast profiles (on the darker end) and branding (leaving flavor notes off the bag) to their customers (largely the traditional, rural Dutch Mennonite community). “You have to roast to suit your customer,” Teresa says.
Their business model relies heavily on the local community, since shipping costs in Canada often bar online customers from ordering.
So instead of focusing their growth efforts on online retail, they’ve looked into mobile physical models, using coffee trucks as their method of choice for getting their brand more visibility. To cover more ground, they have two; one is owned and operated by Keith and Teresa, and one is owned and operated by Al and Jenny Sandve, who bought the truck from them in June of 2021. They sell the coffee that Charlie roasts, hitting events and locations that the Sawatskys don’t have time to.
Their relationship with Oughtred Coffee also extends beyond importing. These coffee colleagues have helped them out in more ways than one; last November, Oughtred Coffee connected the Sawatskys with a Q1 grader who looked over their coffee, giving them valuable insight into their own roasts and how they might refine their roasts. They also stepped in to help Barking Irons with a one-off order too big to fill on their MCR-6.
Having a business model focused on face-to-face interaction is exactly what Teresa loves about her company. She’s excited to see what’s in store for Barking Irons Coffee Roastery: “everything has gone completely differently than what I thought,” she says. Now that the brand has been active for two years, she and Keith are ready to steer their gathered momentum in a couple of specific directions.
Barking Irons has recently struck a deal that will allow them to expand south into the US. By sending samples to MDT, a gun manufacturer founded in British Columbia who used the samples in gift bags, they secured a contract to sell their coffee retail in MDT stores in Washington. “Breaking into the states will be really beneficial,” Keith says.
They believe the contract will only grow, allowing them to reach further into the US and find an even wider customer base.
Their contract with MDT is the first way they’re looking to expand; the second is finding more wholesale partnerships with local cafes. They have yet to expand into partnerships that serve their coffee, but the Sawatskys are hopeful that expanding their geographic reach will help them find their first cafe partnership.
The Barking Irons Menu
Charlie roasts every day of the week, spending five to six hours in the renovated barn space to make sure everything goes out on time.
Barking Irons has six core products and a seasonal Christmas roast every winter. They offer two dark single origins, two medium single origins, one medium blend, and a medium-dark blend.
Their coffee has also been used in other novelty products too. One, a chocolate bark from Rocky Mtn Chocolate in Harrison Hot Springs, is also available on their website. Their coffee has also been incorporated into a dry barbeque rub. In the future, Teresa says she would love to open up a shop to sell other novelty coffee products like these, rather than expanding into a cafe.
With their coffee truck model, they aim for bigger, two-day events like fairs and rodeos to reach a better balance of sales with the work it takes to set up and take down their truck. But they also take on shorter gigs like weddings and parties as well.
The Sawatskys are looking forward to the end of the pandemic, since their mobile trucks and retail products depend on the community showing up to stores and events. “Lots of people are still slow to come out,” Keith says.
Growing a small brand during a public health crisis is no small feat. While the pandemic has opened doors for ecommerce (the element that makes it, in Keith’s words’ ‘recession-proof’), the Chilliwack community is still being rightfully careful when it comes to crowds, which impacts the events that Barking Irons caters.
In the meantime, they’re working on new partnerships, going after bigger fish like chain stores that have more room for growth than mom & pop shops. Charlie aims for consistency in roast profiles; Keith and Teresa aim for consistency in their sales and creative decision-making. They know there will be highs and lows in their fiscal year, and they’re looking for ways into new markets to increase Barking Irons Coffee Roastery’s growth.
Next up in their plan is reaching out to new cafes as they continue expanding, both in the US via the MDT partnership as well as in other British Columbia areas.
Keith has also floated the idea of relocating; the Nicola Valley is expensive. If they were to move down the road, Teresa says she would jump on the opportunity to open up their next roastery space to the public and sell their products right from home.
Bring Barking Irons Home
Barking Irons coffee is available at many locations, both in Chilliwack and elsewhere. They are in two Produce Gone Wild locations in Chilliwack, two Blue Dandelion locations in Aggasiz and Harrison Hot Springs, as well as stores in Oliver, Cawston, Quesnel, Williams Lake, Merritt, and Abbottsford. You can find the complete list on their website, as well as follow them on Instagram or Facebook.
Want your company to be featured on our blog & social media? Send us your story using our Customer Feature form?
Leave a reply