Knowledge is power, and Ant Walach and Rita Kaminsky, founders of Snowdrift Coffee & Workspace, want to share theirs. In 2017, they moved from the Bay Area back to the Midwest, settling in Roscoe, Illinois, in order to bring their 30 years of combined experience in roasting, quality control, operations, and cafe work to an area with relatively few opportunities for coffee education. The Walach-Kaminsky power couple has been working together for years (first at Linea Caffe, then at Equator Coffees and Teas), and the duo is excited to be building out a curriculum of customizable classes, the crown jewel of which is a monthly roasting course offered free of charge to coffee workers who are LGBTQ+, women, and/or people of color. I talked over email with Walach about how Snowdrift came to be and why it needs to exist.
How did you two get the idea to start Snowdrift?
Rita and I share a passion for coffee and a dedicated work ethic. We’re able to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so it made sense for us to combine our experiences and start out on our own. We worked together at Linea Caffe and Equator, so we had already built a strong foundation from our shared experiences and history communicating through hectic business. Snowdrift Coffee is an amalgamation of all the things we love doing: working at home, working all the time, early morning farmers markets, and sharing knowledge with others.
You both moved from Oakland—what made you choose Roscoe?
Our families are based in Wisconsin and Illinois, so it’s a true homecoming for us after being away for 20 years. We ended up landing in Roscoe, Illinois because of the location. It’s a quick drive to Chicago (90 minutes), Milwaukee (60 minutes), and Madison (45 minutes). People are already traveling a distance to attend classes at established campuses and we knew we could compete if we stayed close to an airport. Chicago and Milwaukee both have burgeoning coffee communities, so it was important we stayed within a reasonable drive to the bigger cities.
Can you tell me a little about your roasting education program?
Our roasting space is small, yet mighty—just like us. I have a 10kg North Roaster from Mill City Roasters for practicing production roast profiles and a Huky 500T for sample roasts. The class size is small for better student/teacher interaction and practice time on machines. We’re starting 2018 off with offering a basic introduction to roasting class while we finish construction and equipment installation. This class will cover sample roasting to production roasting a specific coffee, but at an entry-level understanding.
What made you think of focusing on roasting education, especially in Roscoe?
My background is in roasting and education so it was a logical trajectory for my side of the business, but that’s not the main focus of Snowdrift Coffee. Once the space is completed, we will also offer classes focused on barista skill work. There’s a lot of interest in coffee-specific continuing education, but there aren’t a lot of options available for classes, especially in the Midwest. Opening a training campus in this location allowed us the ability to move home to be closer to our parents while also providing a service that is still limited in this area.
What inspired the idea to offer free classes to LGBTQ+ folks, women, and people of color?
This is something that’s always been rolling around in my mind. I’m grateful for opportunities and mentorship I’ve received throughout my career in the specialty coffee industry. Now, as a small business owner, I finally have the means and the equipment to provide the opportunity and give back to the community.
As a male-presenting person, I know that I’ve been afforded opportunities with less of a struggle than others in this industry. Even aspects of an interview for a roasting position have the residue of toxic masculinity. I haven’t been asked if I understand the physicality of the job, even though I’m only 5’4″. This is an actual question I’ve heard brought up to femme-presenting people. We want this class to not only be affordable to all, but held in a space where the students don’t have to worry about anything besides roasting. While not all roasting spaces experience that level of discrimination, we wanted to offer a space that offered an additional level of assurance and solidarity right out of the gate. I can only speak from my own experiences, but daily mundane life is a struggle for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Offering this as a no-cost class helps members of our community get the basic hands-on experience of roasting coffee they may not be able to access otherwise.
What do you hope to accomplish through these educational programs?
We hope our students will recognize their potential after participating in classes they may not have been able to join in the past. We want the educational side of Snowdrift Coffee & Workspace to be affordable to anyone who has a passion to learn the material. This is also our way of investing in the community. We have a low overhead and multiple veins of revenue through Snowdrift, so we’re able to offer these classes at a lower price point to make this education accessible to more people.
What purpose do you hope Snowdrift can serve in the local community and in the larger coffee community?
In our local community of casual coffee drinkers, we share knowledge of specialty grade coffee by providing very high-quality roasted coffees at a price point they find accessible. We see the education side of Snowdrift Coffee as a way to invest in the larger coffee community and share the experiences and knowledge we’ve gleaned along the way in our own careers.