Two long-time professionals with their own distinct visions for coffee are helping each other realize those visions in a small, bustling coffee bar and roastery in Northeast Seattle. Carlos Salmeron’s Ventoux Coffee takes up the front portion of the shared space; Matt Ehresman’s Hart Roasters fills in the back, where Ehresman roasts for Ventoux and a few wholesale clients. Four months in, the community response to the project has been so strong that the business partners have already begun to hatch plans for new outposts of the split coffee bar and roastery.
The Bryant neighborhood cafe is sandwiched between the University District and Ravenna on NE 55th St. near a homebrew supply store, a British-style tea room, and a wood-fired pizza restaurant. Before Ventoux and Hart opened, Bryant was one of the few remaining micro-hoods in Seattle without a coffee bar.
Keeping the companies as distinct businesses—with Salmeron running the cafe and Ehresman heading up the roasting operations—keeps costs down and allows the partners to offer a full-scale coffee program. “The great thing about being separate is that almost every customer has at one point asked, ‘What's the name of your company, Ventoux or Hart?’” Salmeron says. “This gives us an opportunity to open up a dialogue and explain our dual concept.”
Ehresman brings a decade of industry experience to the project, but he’s new to the nuts-and-bolts of running a business. That’s part of the reason the partnership works: Salmeron has a solid background in business, while Ehresman brings deep roasting knowledge to the table. “We've had the opportunity to teach the other and grow in areas where we have an interest, but also a lack of knowledge,” Ehresman says.
Salmeron met Ehresman while working for a payroll and HR software company near Capitol Hill. Ehresman had returned to Seattle following a stint managing a five-acre coffee farm in Kona (he’d roast one day, prune and weed the next) and landed a barista job at a cafe across the street from Salmeron’s office. After a year of casual conversations, the men began to form an idea for the coffee concept that would become Hart and Ventoux. “The more we talked about starting a company the more real the idea became,” Salmeron says.
Ehresman says customers occasionally confuse Hart with Portland’s Heart. “We're very different companies in our methods and practices,” Ehresman says. “That said, I respect the heck out of their roasting operations, so there could be a much worse comparison.” Hart is a family name and Ehresman’s middle name. “It goes back to my great grandpa, John Hart, who signed the Declaration of Independence out of New Jersey. It meant a lot to me to be able to commemorate my family with this company,” he says.
The base coffee for Hart’s Tybring Espresso was sourced from a farm in Brazil; Ehresman is working with a farm in Colombia to solidify a second relationship coffee later in 2015. He roasts on a Diedrich IR-2.5. “The thing is a workhorse and can roast batch after batch after batch,” Ehresman says. “Because of my small capacity, I spend a lot of time with those burners on.” On an average week he roasts four or five days and spends anywhere from three to five hours per day at the machine. That includes roasting single origins such as Peru Cajamarca, Lake Toba Sumatra, and a single producer lot from Huila, Colombia.
When it comes to carving out a niche in Seattle’s specialty coffee community, Ventoux is aiming to “offer the highest quality coffee in the city.” In addition to roasting in-house and keeping it simple (only 8- and 12-ounce cups are offered) Ventoux is prioritizing customer service. “We love coffee and we love talking to every customer about coffee,” says Salmeron.
So far, it’s working: Salmeron says the reception to the cafe has been incredible. “The sense of loyalty is far greater than I ever would have expected,” he says. “The one comment that has absolutely blown me away is when I am ringing a customer up and they are handing me their money for their cup of coffee and I hear them say, ‘thank you so much for opening such a great coffee shop in our neighborhood.’”
Currently, the business partners are touring other spaces for second and third cafes. Salmeron also hopes to use the project as a “vehicle for philanthropy” through partnering with nonprofits. “We have a very strong connection with the cycling community based on my love of bikes, the Tour de France, and cycling in general, so we may see a nonprofit opportunity happen in that space.”