Stumptown Speaks To Sprudge On New Investment: ...

Stumptown Speaks To Sprudge On New Investment: “We Get To Be Even Better”

It’s business as usual today at Stumptown Headquarters in Portland, Oregon. No track-suited European business investment goons or Wall Street Types milling about; the same low-key “get stuff done” vibe abounds, and the staff is busy, but not too busy to say, introduce the office Bulldog (his name is Henry) or ask about your lunch plans. This is not what it looks like when a company is being “suffocated by corporate America”, a phrase used earlier this week in an occasionally-factual, editorially-questionable piece published by Esquire. Over the past few days Stumptown leaders have spoken to the New York Times and the Willamette Week, and today Matt Lounsbury, Director of Operations for Stumptown, sat down with

On expansion plans:

Matt Lounsbury: “Anyone who knows Duane Sorenson knows that he’s always on the lookout for new projects, and one of his favorite things to do is to open up new shops. Expansion is nothing new for us, and we’ve heard criticism of it since we opened our second shop in Portland, on Belmont. For right now, is Duane physically signing leases in new markets? No. But there are 2 spaces in the works for New York.” (Editor’s Note: for more on Stumptown expansion plans, read Oliver Strand’s piece in the New York Times Diner’s Journal.)

On what new investment means for quality:

Matt Lounsbury: “Investment gives us that much more security to pay higher prices at origin, and our buying practices will get better and better even as prices rise in the market. We’ll be able to buy more high quality green coffee from around the world, and continue to strengthen our role in the lives the farmers we’re partnered with. Our roast practices won’t change; we get to be even better.”

On what this means for Portland:

Matt Lounsbury: “We will always be headquartered in Southeast Portland – this place is a part of who we are. We’ve been scouting sites for a new headquarters for a while now, and we’re still looking for the perfect place, but rest assured, it’ll be in SE. For right now, we’re in the construction phase for a cold brew bottling plant next to our original Division Street cafe, and right next door to that Duane is partnering with a former chef from Olympic Provisions to open a bar, though that won’t actually be owned by Stumptown.

Our coffee is still being roasted locally. Our relationships with local accounts here in Portland – as well as in New York, Seattle, and everywhere else – are only going to get stronger. We’re helping in a very real way to create new jobs, and some of our partners are opening up 2nd or 3rd locations, which is amazing, because every day in the paper you read about local businesses closing, the economy tanking…we’re so excited about our partnerships here in Portland. This is a huge part of what I do everyday, and we’re going to be able to do that better than we’ve ever done before. “



  1. shawn

    5 June

    here’s the thing, todd – those same “upper ranks of the coffee community” know that the only reason you have any of this information in the first place is because you, with your “real man’s roaster” of burnt bullshit, were in high-level talks with TSG to sell. the reason why you didn’t is anyone’s guess – who knows, maybe they pulled their offer once they realized they could sign a much, much better company than la colombe. maybe you were a total fucking douche throughout the negotiations and they didn’t like the idea of having to deal with you for another 5 years, even if it were only at 10% controlling interest. who knows. but that’s why you have the knowledge you do – you almost sold to TSG yourself.

    it’s not that your speech is “less than conforming”, it’s not that you’re rattling cages, and it’s not that you are the black sheep member of the coffee family. you’re a dick, todd. plain and simple. a dick. people really fucking hate you, your coffee sucks, and in another couple of years – when even the elderly have learned enough about coffee to know that what you proffer is burnt and cheap – YOU will be the one remembered with the same reverence as torrefazione and seattle’s best, but without the bank roll and without the cherished place as a community elder.

    frankly, i wish you’d been the one who sold your shitty company, so that maybe then, finally then, you would shut the fuck up.

  2. Knowing that my public speech has been less than conforming, and although the general opinion is that I am against all “third wave” ideals ( I am not, hipster and 3rd wave are not synonyms) – neither I nor the Hearst Publishing company wish to ” start rumors”. Many in the upper ranks of the coffee community know of, discussed in length, compared notes and are definitively aware of the exact nature of this transaction, which does not resemble is the smallest way the one reported here. What is certain is that soon these leaders will break their silence. Each I am certain has been more fearful of community blow back more than the fear of any crippling legal retaliation from big money. Now that it has ebbed and retreated, we all can expect some serious talk about how buyouts effect who we are as a community. Indeed, I am a black sheep, nevertheless I am a proud member of the speciality coffee family and wish beyond all wishes, that it stays ours.

  3. Chris Tacy

    5 June

    Hey Chucha

    I see you posting this same comment all over the place.
    Makes me have no choice but ask for some of the same transparency you’re asking for….
    So… who are you? (and who do you work for)


  4. Tim

    4 June

    Why the anonymity? Some salient points on both sides, but put some face to the opinion, guys.

  5. chucha

    3 June

    Hey Antonius- I see your argument, and it would be amazing if your vision of Stumptown’s future commitment to quality and ethics materializes. I think it’s naive. My primary point is that lying about the new ownership structure does not strike confidence nor does it bode well for future business practices. Secondly, as I’ve opined elsewhere, looking at TSG’s history of investments in the beverage industry and their medium-term exit preferences, the pressure on Stumptown to maximize its profit margin will be tremendous. From my own experience in business I know that it takes a spine of steel and unwavering commitment to an ethical standard not to increase profits by decreasing quality. As you pointed out Sorenson’s track record has been excellent in this regard. But the buck doesn’t stop with him anymore, and when a PE fund is calling the shots it’s naive to think that anything other than maximizing profit will be the goal.

  6. Antonius Finklebrausen

    3 June

    I don’t know Chucha, respectfully, I think the logic of your argument is biased and kind of based on a precarious layer of ifs and maybes ala~conspiracy theory.

    Ethics are important. Stumptown, Intelli, Counter Culture, and many other smaller “3rd wave” companies set the standards for ethics. They are always paying premium prices to farms for excellent coffee and excellent practices. They have so far continued this relationship seasonally. The same coffees (like El Injerto, Finca El Puente, Finca Kilimanjaro) have come back, year after year, tasting better and better. And this is absolutely thanks to companies, such as the latter three, working cooperatively in a direct trade. They fly their producers in to the US often to lecture and meet the staff and customers. What’s dishonest about any of that? They haven’t been dishonest about any of that yet. That’s a pretty big deal when coming to your conclusions. Keep in mind, Aleco is an incredible sourcer of coffee and often sources with other great sourcers for other great companies. Maybe they’re all lying too?

    Stumptown also HISTORICALLY pays their staff very fair wages with benefits that many other smaller shops only dream of implementing. Health care is a big one. Slayer concerts are another… Also, Hipster? Slayer? Just the other day, I was walking around and saw a Warlock MC dude ride by who was sporting some slayer swag. He was probably a hipster, too.

    I guess I feel like Stumptown, like other roasters in their league, obviously are only interested in “[reinvesting] in their company and their supply chain.” They wouldn’t do any of the latter if that wasn’t the case. In that vein of thinking and if Duane is still the “artistic director” with all the powers that come along with that, I don’t see how that wont continue. Or how it’s a ton different than taking a loan out. I don’t know. I’m not a business owner.

    Stumptown has also never (in the ten years that I’ve enjoyed their coffee) ever pulled any punches about what they were and are. They are a roaster with cafes. When they brought their coffee up to Seattle, they didn’t claim that they were from Seattle or that they were a small roaster. When they opened a roastery in Brooklyn, it was for specific purposes. It had everything to do with people wanting their product and wanting it fresh. It was a smart thing to do in that regard. When your espresso tastes best pulled between 4-6 days off of roast and it arrives on the 5th day, it’s a bad situation to be in.

    Latching on now to the idea of taste, if you don’t like the way their coffee tastes, you shouldn’t get it. Seems simple. Ew this tastes bad, maybe this isn’t for me. I remember discovering Stumptown on a Portland trip back in the early 2000s and instantly impressed with how good it tasted. It sucked when I had to go back to the East Coast, before Intelli and Counter Culture got some coffee to my town. My city had two local roasters that supplied cafes and THEY BOTH SUCKED. Accordingly, I stopped buying their products because they were gross and shipped Stumptown over to my apartment bi-weekly because it was the only option. Or stop drinking coffee. And that sucked because of shipping charges. I was a broke college student.

    In any case, what I’m getting at is that after ethics, maybe even before ethics, taste is king. Has Stumptown stopped delivering on taste? The Sulawesi espresso my shop was pulling tasted like the bomb, dawg. Feel me? The Costa Rica Torres is ridiculous. Finca El Puente is back and tasting great. That’s a reason to drink coffee.

    I guess lastly, this isn’t the first case of a silent business partner, whether it be a firm or friend. I’ve been to small shops that have them. I’ve worked for small gelato companies that have them. And I’m sure many other roasters have them, too. I have a hunch La Colombe has a few. I don’t know Duane Sorenson. A lot of people don’t know him. I can’t speculate, and frankly don’t care to take the time to speculate, what who his friends are. I have my own life to live. It’s not that weird to strike up acquaintances through business and then become business partners with them. Again, I know many cafe owners who run excellent businesses that have done just that.

    Have I ever met two-faced people before? Yes, twice. One was a wanted felon from Utah, the other was a man I served an espresso to that runs a coffee company in Philly and NYC. It’s interesting. I wonder what would have happened if this story came out, naturally, through a reputable source (i.e. The New York Times) instead the mad ranting of a rabid pitbull. Along with fake friends, I’d also like to do away with loud whiny babies who rather than improve their product choose to be lazy and malicious; who are kicking themselves for walking across antarctica and not focusing on quality coffee.

  7. jen

    2 June

    Chucha- I agree. Thank you.

  8. chucha

    2 June

    I meant “have you ever met people like THAT in real life”? didn’t mean to sound all like, you know.

  9. chucha

    2 June

    Hey Antonius, I definitely don’t want to be likened to a crazy birther, so please allow me to respectfully respond. I understand your train of thought, but the logic is wrong. It matters to me because I like to support independent businesses that reinvest in their company and their supply chain. I’m not interested to further line a Wall Street pocket, and I tailor my consumption pretty dramatically to achieve this goal. Second, it is completely disingenuous for Sorenson to pretend that this investment came as a result of friendship with a “buddy”. This matters to me because I don’t like to cater to businesses that are sneaky and obfuscatory– it makes me lose trust, makes me question what else they are being sneaky and obfuscatory about. If he’s so quick to play words games here, I wonder what other words games Stumptown is using in it’s communications to us, their customers. How can I trust that their statements about sourcing, quality, corporate responsibility, etc. are ethical and true, and not a by-product of PR spin without substance. They know that their hipster street cred would be shot if the public were to be properly informed, so they hide. Have you ever met people like in real life? They suck, and I certainly would never want to give them my business. I care about this because I like to be an informed consumer who “votes with my dollars.” It’s hard work to make informed choices, and corporate hogwash that makes my task more difficult ticks me off. You know, I would actually not be so bothered about this if it weren’t so obvious they are lying. If a PE fund had taken a majority stake and then Stumptown either said nothing or came out with a clean statement about why they had taken these steps, then we would be in a different situation. But they chose to lie, and to me it speaks volumes about their character.

  10. Antonius Finklebrausen

    2 June

    Remember the whole “Donald-Trump’s-need-to-see-a-birth-certificate” thing? That was dumb.
    SO IS THE LAST COMMENT. WHO FUCKIN’ CARES? It’s no one’s “business” except Stumptown’s… get it?!?!

  11. chucha

    2 June

    Did you ask who currently owns a majority of Stumptown’s equity? An answer to that would put this whole thing to rest. Stumptown/TSG refuses to disclose. Why? Don’t let them pull wool over your eyes– you are smarter than that.

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