Welcome back to a new feature series on Sprudge, Going Somewhere Solo, in which we profile the people behind the new wave of so-called “nano-roasters”, the tiniest of new coffee concerns pushing quality and entrepreneurship in a big way. These are seasoned coffee pros who’ve struck out on their own (often in unexpected places) to launch roasting enterprises outside of the traditional coffee shop format, instead growing their businesses within collaborative spaces, home offices, garages, and of course, online.
This week’s spotlight is on Deaton Pigot, an Australian coffee professional with an extensive CV whose most recent role is as the founder of Take Flight Coffee in Los Angeles, California.
Hi! Tell us what your roasting business is called and where you're located.
Hi there! My company is called Take Flight Coffee roasting out of Los Angeles, California since July 2016.
What equipment are you currently roasting on?
I have access to two roasters: a mid-90s Probat L12 and a mid-60s Probat G60.
Who else is involved in the business right now?
I’m a sole practitioner and at the time of this I have four staff members on board: Chelsea Pigot, Customer Relations Manager; Douglas Meils, Roaster and Quality Control Specialist (formally of Intelligentsia and Handsome Coffee fame); Eric Freeman, Production; Dalton Sargent, Production. In March, I will have a Sales Person on full time as well.
What's your background in the coffee industry?
I have had a coffee job of some sort for 24 years which is crazy to think, so I will put in point form my background from when it started to get really interesting for me.
National Barista Trainer and Coffee Quality Control, Lazumba, Wollongong, Australia
Roaster and Retail Manager, Bewley’s Coffee, Dublin, Ireland
Roaster and Quality Control Specialist, Intelligentsia Coffee, Los Angeles, USA
Operations Manager and Green Coffee Buyer, Toby’s Estate Coffee, Brooklyn, USA
Founder, Take Flight Coffee, Los Angeles, USA
How are you currently sourcing your coffees? What do you look for?
I do all my own sourcing. Over the years I have made fantastic relationships at origin and I firmly believe maintaining these relationships is an integral part of my business. In my first 12 months of operations, I expect that most of my offerings will be from direct relationships that I have established over time.
Aside from working with people who I like and admire all through the supply chain, what I look for in coffee is sweetness and well-articulated flavors that people can grab on to. The sweeter the coffee the more we have to work with as roasters.
What—or who—inspired you to go out on your own with roasting? Is there a coffee (or other) company you admire and would love to grow up to be like?
My family. They are all small business owners, so I have had the idea that I would own my own business since I was in high school, I guess it's in my blood. I have had an ever-evolving business plan since I was 24 years of age and with some savings behind me it was time to pull the trigger.
As for companies I admire, coffee or otherwise, I am not sure. I love all things tech, so Tesla is close to my heart. I guess my father, he in his own way has a rags to riches story (for “outback” Australia). The focus he had for the 30+ years of running his own practice was unwavering; he had a knack of finding the right talent to build strength in his organization as it continuously grew. By the time he retired from his business he ended up having to put on four partners to handle the business he ran on his own. As a kid you don’t get it, but looking back at what he did and how he did it, it really is inspiring to me.
What kind of risks have you taken in striking out on your own to launch an independent roasting business? Did you make any unusual decisions?
Rolling the dice with my life savings with no outside investment and no real fallback is the risk. Deciding to have a design-forward approach to my brand and actually deciding that I can make this happen all while being a vagabond roaster. Not having my own roof over my head is kinda daunting, something that will change this year.
How are you reaching customers without a retail cafe? Do you plan to have one someday? Where can people buy your coffee?
In a lot of ways I feel lucky that I have been in America now for 10 years (this October). I have met so many people and as a result have hit the ground running in some respects. Getting outside of that circle is now phase 2, which of course social media and my website are helping with. Hitting the pavement, introducing myself to potential customers as the founder, buyer, roaster, production guy, and janitor grabs attention.
I don’t think retail puts you on the map, I would much rather build out a roastery, with a tasting room, lab, a lounge room, and focus on what I am most passionate about, buying and roasting coffee. The Counter Culture business model if you will.
It strikes us as a measurement of where the specialty industry is now that many small roasters are now cropping up across the landscape without a physical location to hang a shingle on. How will you stand out from others competing for shelf space in the world's decreasing multi-roaster cafes?
It is exciting to see that shift happen; I consult for businesses about just this type of thing. I can help companies who are getting their toes wet for the first time or businesses that are well-established and want that extra something to help them keep moving quality forward. I’m becoming kinda busy doing it and I am absolutely loving helping out and seeing people have “ah ha” moments when I explain roasting and the correlating taste in the cup is goosebump-inducing.
Even though there is a lot of movement towards roasting, the world is not that small. I always look back to Australia where I am from and note that, if Sydney and Melbourne can cope with the saturation of coffee businesses there in a population less than greater Los Angeles, then I know that there is room in the US for us all. Standing out will come from experience, patience, but most of all relationships and maybe an Australian accent? For every new roastery opening, there are countless cafes, restaurants, office spaces, apartment buildings, and home coffee users. The multi-roaster cafe (which I love) only makes up 0.000001% or something of what is out there.
Lastly, how would you describe your vibe in general? Is there a kind of music you like to listen to when you roast, do you wear lucky shoes, etc.?
Is blue collar chic still a thing?! I like to mess around a bit, I am probably singing too loud around the warehouse, tapping out rhythms to the sound of the roaster's drum rotating. I do have lucky shoes actually!
Allsaints, they’re sure to fall off me if I have to move too fast but I can’t stop wearing them. I’ve had to resole them half a dozen times if not more.
Liz Clayton is the associate editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.