While travelling here around Portland OR I decided to spend a few days in the Mt. hood area and hopefully try to summit the mountain. Today was pretty much rest and explore time so I drove down the mountain to nearby Rhododendron and check out Mt. Hood Roasters. I spent some time with the owners Rick and Jiyeon Applegate.
The Applegate’s were super friendly and accommodating. I just stopped in for a cup of coffee, but they both kind of took me in and took me on a tour of the company. They embody all the principles espoused in the book Free by Chris Anderson. They don’t hide anything and aren’t worried about people seeing how they operate. They run a fantastic business based on sound practices and quality product and don’t need the secrecy that most other businesses seem to require.
When I first arrived Rick wasn’t there so Jiyeon offered me a cup of coffee and told me all about the business while she packaged small bags of coffee for area gift shops. Rick didn’t show up for a bit so she called him and explained that he’s apt to start talking to people and just hang out a while at the post office or wherever. She told me a little bit about the actual roaster, but made it clear that Rick loves to talk about it and that she’d leave that part for him to do. She and I talked a little about coffee habits in Korea, where she is from.
Rick pulled up, and it was like meeting an old friend. Rick is an Army retiree and met Jiyeon while stationed in Korea. They settled in the Mt. Hood area because he has family nearby. Their first venture was a full-fledged restaurant, but they settled into the coffee business because the restaurant demanded too much time. Now they’ve set up Mt. Hood Roasters in what Rick envisioned as a winery-style operation. Their house is right behind the roastery. They roast, package, and sell from the same building. They even have a small cottage onsite that is offered free of charge to any of their vendors that would like to stay near the mountain for some ski time or just a getaway. It really is similar to how many wineries operate to great success, and it obviously works for them as well.
Rick took me back to the supply shack where he stores his green coffee beans. After he explained all the reasoning behind his bean selections we picked a blend of green beans to roast. Then he took me back to the roasting room and we cooked up a ten pound batch in his Sivetz air roaster. Although I’ve been a coffee nut for a long time, this was my first experience with roasting it, and what an enjoyable time it was. At each step of the process Rick explained what was happening. We watched the chaff float away, smelled the beans at each point, listened for the crack of water followed by the crack of oil. Then we moved the beans over to a cooling kettle.
There are a lot of roasters out there, but every one I’ve run across acted like what they were doing was a corporate secret that only they knew about. The Applegate’s at Mt. Hood Roasters were just the opposite. They invited me in and revealed everything. They’re very proud of their operation and rightly so. If you are ever in the Mt. Hood area, you should consider this as one of your main tourist stops. It’s right on Hwy 26 before you get into Government Camp. Even if you don’t drink coffee it’s worth a stop. Maybe they’ll make a coffee drinker out of you.
If you’ve ever thought about starting a coffee business, I’d call the Applegate’s and offer to do an unpaid internship or just pay them to show you the ropes. It would be a great way to learn the business.
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