Commercial Coffee Roaster News, Customer Stories
Pennsylvania Medium: Shane Kilpatrick and Hill Road Coffee Roasters
Shane Kilpatrick roasts for Hill Road Coffee Roasters on a MCR-3D in a commercial roastery in Reading, Pennsylvania. The roastery is open to the public, offering a coffee bar and a to-go experience curated for the area’s walking distri
Setting the Scene
After being exposed to craft coffee by his girlfriend in the mid-2010s, Shane realized that he couldn’t go back to what he usually drank. He fell into roasting as a hobby after learning how to grind and brew at home. It felt like a natural progression: in 2016, he started with a Fresh Roast air roaster, making batches less than 100 grams and oftentimes leaning mostly into the medium roast.
In his early trial roasts, he never roasted through second crack. “Looking back, I took the hard road,” he says. Still, he learned a lot from the medium roasts, and the hobby helped him to realize his passion for the food and beverage industry.
To supplement his hobby, he turned to online roasting content and found that sifting through digital sources had its own learning curve. “The internet can help you and hurt you,” he says. He credits most of his roasting education to experimentation on the Fresh Roast, and then on the Behmor he invested in a year later in 2017.
With an increased volume, Shane advanced his hobby, and found it could be feasible as a career. And once his friends and family started asking for his coffee, he decided to jump in. In the fall of 2018, he debuted his retail coffee at an arts and crafts fair, Hydra Arts Bazaar in Reading, Pennsylvania just a few months later.
The Way Up
The success of the fair showed Shane the interest he could generate in his product, especially at a venue where his products stood out. He made a commitment to follow through with the business by purchasing an Aillio Bullet roaster at the end of 2018.
Along with the market potential, he also saw much more potential in his roasting craft now that he worked on a machine that was compatible with roasting software. Once he’d dialed in a first-launch lineup, he started Hill Road Coffee Roasters officially in July of 2019.
While the Bullet was enough to start the company with, by mid-2021 the company had grown to a point where more space and capacity was necessary for the operation. Between the four farmer’s markets that Shane attended a week, his roasting days stretched longer and longer as he tried to meet rising demand. So he began the search for a bigger roasting location, and a bigger roaster, both of which he found in October of 2021.
Between October and January 2022, Shane signed a lease, installed the new roaster–an MCR-3D–and built out the facility to welcome the public, including a pourover bar. On top of that, he continued roasting for the ever-expanding company on the Bullet. Now, he looks back on that period as a challenge overcome.
Ever since, the challenges haven’t stopped coming. The MCR-3D was the obvious choice for the space because of the building’s gas supply and space constraints, as well as Mill City Roasters commitment to customer service and support.
The roastery and its setup considerably shortened Shane’s roasting days. But now, looking back, he wishes he had invested in a bigger roaster sooner, to have more room to grow into.
As the company scaled, its storefront became more busy as well. And with regular open hours, Shane realized that communicating with customers was a skill that could be refined. He found the importance of matching products to customers’ varying palettes without forcing anyone into a corner.
In the year since the company’s change in model, Shane has learned the art of letting the customer talk first and following their lead, rather than suggesting they change their habits. “Coffee is a ritual thing to a lot of people,” he says. “No one wants to hear that they’re doing it wrong.”
At the Hill Road roastery, Shane walks the line between the customers who come in knowing their way around craft coffee, and those who come in asking for something Folgers-adjacent. It can be hard to translate specialty coffee into every flavor of customer, so Shane has implemented some trailheads in the shop for people to follow their own natural curiosity.
For one, he’s got the coffee taster’s flavor wheel up on the wall, so customers can read it while they wait for a pourover. And in the afternoons, instead of re-brewing the air pot, he makes customers pour-overs at the coffee bar. The method, he says, convinces first-time craft coffee drinkers to try new things. He suggests the pourover because of its freshness, but it can also ignite some curiosity in customers about the process of brewing.
The Hill Road Coffee Roasters Menu
Hill Road Coffee Roasters sells seven different products including a decaf and espresso. The lineup is a spectrum of mediums, including both medium-light and medium-dark roasts, the latter of which gave Shane an opportunity to supplement his original education and explore the world of second crack.
Most of his coffees are washed and from Central America, to feed his customers’ cravings for a classic chocolatey tasting note. The medium Honduras is Shane’s coffee of choice on drip, and it’s tied for bestseller with the dark Brazil.
The most adventurous roast in the lineup is the natural Ethiopia, a light-medium from the Adola washing station with tasting notes of blueberry and honey.
Shane also roasts a Serendipitous Blend, a preblend of any leftover or wayward beans that gives him a way for him to cut down on waste and offer customers a discounted blend. It’s a new product, but he’s hopeful it will return to the menu when needed after both the first and second batches sold out.
All the Hill Road coffees are imported through Genuine Origin.
Because of the company’s start-up budget, Shane doesn’t often get to try out new, experimental greens. Instead, he focuses on Hill Road’s flagship roasts, and aims for consistency of product to keep customers coming back. With continuous increases in sales, Shane is hopeful that more capital will mean more experimental lots, more sample roasting and cupping, and, eventually, a bigger menu.
His foray into more acidic coffees would tap into a more niche market than the general population of Mohnton, which is a goal that Hill Road aims to meet. The goal will be easier to attain once Hill Road has more traction and solid revenue through its everyday menu.
Shane foresees another employee joining the Hill Road team in the near future, which he expects will be another opportunity to learn new facets of the profession, such as training and delegating. In Shane’s ideal world, his days would only include roasting. But the reality of owning and operating means he has to manage his team, and he knows that growing the team will only aid in its future evolution.
Following the next five years, in which Shane expects to facilitate steady growth by securing more wholesale and retail partners, he would love to seek out new loans to open a cafe with a full espresso menu and more seating. A cafe would mean more control over his coffee’s preparation, something not usually possible for a wholesale-focused roastery.
Bring Hill Road Coffee Roasters Home
Find Hill Road Coffee at the West Reading farmers market, the Downingtown farmer’s market, the Eagle View farmers market, or the Malvern farmer’s market.
You can also buy Hill Road Coffee retail from Philly Food Works or the newest addition to the wholesale partner’s list, Kimberton Whole Foods.
Otherwise, you can shop the full lineup at the Hill Road Coffee Roasters website, or follow them on Instagram or Facebook.
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