Roasting with Mill City: KW Coffee Collective Kicks Off In Ontario
Roasting with Mill City is an ongoing series where we highlight companies using our roasters to build their business, make a difference, and roast delicious coffee.
The Canadian specialty coffee industry has been steadily growing year after year, but the barriers to entry for starting a roastery have always remained high. KWCC is Ontario’s first true co-roasting facility, located in Kitchener, Ontario. Kitchener-Waterloo is located about an hour west of Toronto and is one of the world’s fastest growing tech sectors and the world’s second highest start-up density after Silicon Valley. The region has a global reputation for innovation, making it an obvious location for Canada’s second shared roasting space.
KWCC members gain full access to the facility which includes two roasting stations with 10kg Mill City Roasters, two fully equipped packing stations, a coffee lab with every tool and toy imaginable, an education centre for classes and workshops, green storage, and even a dedicated water station to test roasts with specific water types.
KW Coffee Collective is the first shared coffee roasting facility in Ontario and only the second in Canada. A relatively new concept, shared coffee roasting facilities have only been around for less than a decade. In this short time, they have seen success in the US (New York, Portland, Los Angeles), the EU, UK and Australia, helping to grow their local coffee scenes and communities. Canada’s first shared roasting space opened in Montreal a few years ago spawning many new coffee brands and transforming the local scene. KWCC aims to do the same for Southern Ontario with an inclusive, approachable environment and the tools necessary to help specialty coffee enthusiasts jump start their coffee roasting businesses or roast for their cafes.
An inclusive and accessible space for all. The Canadian coffee community has become disjointed during the pandemic, KWCC is a space to rebuild community and revenue streams. KWCC is building an inclusive community atmosphere without the smoke and mirrors to encourage collaboration, information exchange and ultimately the collective growth of the Ontario coffee community. As a predominantly white-male oriented industry, Shelby and Ron see KWCC as an opportunity for the next generation of diverse coffee roasters to jump start their businesses by lowering the barriers to entry and eliminating the need for significant startup capital. KWCC plans to implement accessible training programs for minority groups and female coffee professionals to encourage diversity in the Canadian coffee industry.
With Ron and Shelby as mentors, KWCC members will be able to easily launch their roasting careers while immersed in a fun, collaborative environment. Each member begins with introductory training that covers basic roasting principles and safety to start roasting. From there members will be guided through each roasting session until they feel comfortable roasting independently, while knowing their safety net is close by.
In the midst of a pandemic, Ron Donaldson pursues his dream of building a thriving coffee community in KW, making roasting accessible to all and helping coffee businesses rebuild in a post-covid world. Ron’s first exposure to the shared roasting concept was at an SCA Global Coffee Expo where he learned of a new business model changing the coffee landscape in a handful of US coffee centers. A career geoscientist with a flourishing consulting practice, Ron added the idea to the bucket list. About a month before COVID changed the world, Ron had a business plan, a lead on potential spaces for a collective, and met a young roaster named Shelby. All that changed in mid-march 2020. Suddenly the status quo didn’t seem like a bad idea. Fast forward to March 2021. Hoping that COVID would soon be behind us, an ad for a cool converted industrial space caught Ron’s attention; 5,500 sq. ft., loading bays, updated gas and hydro, easy access/accessible, close to home, an open minded landlord, it ticked all the boxes. Recognizing the recent hardships endured by the specialty coffee sector, in particular small cafes, Ron felt the time was right for the KWCC and the opportunity to help businesses cut costs, personalize their coffee offerings, discover new opportunities and come together to build a more resilient coffee community. June 1st lease signed. August 1st keys in hand. September 1st Shelby swaps trier for paint roller. End of November the doors open.
With a target market of new coffee roasters looking at starting a business/brand, cafes that want to empower their staff and take greater control of their coffee offerings by sourcing, roasting and finally brewing their “own” coffee, or small roasters looking to scale-up, a shared roasting space offers members the benefits of their own roastery without the associated start-up cost or time commitment.
With two, four, and eight hour sessions and hands-on coaching, members develop and perfect new skills, interact with other entrepreneurs, and have full access to the space to roast and package their own coffee for a nominal cost. The cost savings realized by members means their roasting businesses will be profitable sooner, and / or their cafes will realize significant cost savings relative to buying wholesale as they get back on their feet.
About Ron Donaldson
First exposed to coffee roasting in 1975, local entrepreneur Ron Donaldson’s passion for coffee was reignited in the early 2000s when a friend shared coffee roasted on a hot air popcorn popper. Initially roasting at a small scale and then launching the Contrabean Roasting Company in 2016, Ron has been roasting coffee for 15 years. He has a science background (water quality) and has spent the last 30 years mentoring young professionals. Over the past 6 years he has been active in the broader coffee community through the SCA, establishing relationships with coffee farmers at origin, with specialty green coffee importers, equipment companies, roasters and educators; relationships that he looks forward to sharing with KWCC members.
About Shelby Merrithew
Shelby started as a barista and fell in love with the world of specialty coffee. Her roasting adventures started with home-roasting on a popcorn popper going through a lot of burnt coffee. Shelby now has 4 years of roasting experience on a Diedrich IR-12. Through her experience in cafe settings and managing a roastery she’s built some amazing connections in the coffee community including building partnerships with green importers and other badass female roasters. Shelby is super passionate about specialty coffee and the culture around it, and can’t wait to share her knowledge and experience with the KW Coffee Collective.