Have you ever wondered just how local coffee can be in the US? Brandon Belland and Cordial Coffee are definitely doing their best to show us! Brandon joined us recently to talk about his local coffee business and how they manage to make their supply chain intimate, connected, and strong.
In this episode, Brandon tells us about the joy and gratitude he feels knowing the people he buys beans from, and why owning a small boutique business satisfies all his needs and desires for a meaningful life. We hear about the common themes through Brandon's different careers and he explains his fascination with bringing people together, something that was imparted upon him by his parents. Our guest also unpacks the different avenues of his business, talking about online sales, deliveries, their cafe, and more!
Key Points From This Episode:
Brandon's history working with coffee, starting as a barista, and then getting into production.
The sourcing of beans for Cordial Coffee; how the company stays connected to suppliers.
The vision and mission behind the cafe and wholesale sides of the business.
Brandon's commitment to working in spaces that bring people together.
Volume and reach — goals for Cordial Coffee and their market share.
Explorations into the economic links of the coffee industry and where the money goes.
Cordial Coffee's deliberate scaling down of certain aspects of their cafe.
Thoughts on the brick and mortar side of small shops in the current landscape.
The influence that Brandon's parents had on his affinity for socially-focused work.
How to connect with and become a customer of Cordial Coffee!
Links Mentioned in This Episode:
Click Here for the Full Transcript
Brandon Belland 00:00
My goal is to feel as good as they do at the end of the day about what they're doing.
Georgiana Dearing 00:06
Welcome to the Virginia Foodie Podcast, where we lift the lid on the craft food industry and tell the stories behind the good food, good people and good brands that you know and love. If you've ever come across a yummy food brand and wondered, “How did they do that? How did they turn that recipe into a successful business?” Then we've got some stories for you.
Have you ever wondered just how local can local coffee get in the US? I mean, we don't grow the beans here. Well, Abby McAllister is back today. And she's brought her friend Brandon Belland, from Cordial Coffee, and he's got a great story to tell about how his coffee has a direct link back to the farm.
Thank you, Abby, for, like, finding Brandon and bringing me in so that we could talk to him. We know Cordial Coffee and we like it and we know the probably more restaurant side which is where you started and are not really actively running. You're on the roasting and selling side. And I want to hear your story. Can you tell us a little bit about Cordial Coffee and what it is and what people would expect?
Brandon Belland 01:29
Cordial Coffee is just the manifestation of my working in coffee off and on for the past, I guess it’ll be 21 years now. I started as a as a barista and kind of worked backwards into the whole production side of things. So when I was 19, I worked at Starbucks as a barista for a couple of years and the third wave coffee wasn't really a thing yet. And more or less just I love the personal interaction, part of being a barista. You really get to know your customers and just a good, just great, like, high-energy fun, fun job, somebody that age that is so sure, or somewhat extroverted. And the part about roasting, I guess kind of came in when, at that time, Starbucks only had two roasteries. And they were huge and they were like way out of range for me where I was living to go visit, so that wasn't really on, on the table for me to go kind of check out the roastery. So, few years goes by, I moved back to my hometown and then I find out that the local coffee shop that I go to gets their beans roasted in a place that was about 25 to 30 minutes away. So I just took a trip on my own volition one day to go sort of observe that and I walked in and the guy roasting the coffee was really cool. It was a pretty big operation. He had a he had commercial size roasters, which were all completely automated and it wasn't necessarily like an artistan kind of craft. It was more so he may have been developing his own profiles, but there wasn't a lot of hands on, it was more or less he was manning a computer and tons like big… These machines roast multiple bags at one time, like big bag. So like, you know, 2-300 pounds? That's not really what I do. Yeah, yeah. So at that point, and this is probably 2004 or 5, everything was still being roasted really dark. And there wasn't a lot of flavor variants between the origins of the coffee and the story of the origin of the coffee was more interesting than the flavor of the coffee, or the coffees at that point. So that's I was intrigued. Yeah, I was intrigued that went down and the guy was really nice to sit there and kind of just walked in and asked if I could sit with him and watch him while he roasted and sort of observe the process from a production side of things.
Georgiana Dearing 03:48
But that's where you thought you would come in, is in the trying to come up with your flavor profiles?
Brandon Belland 03:54
Well, that was a later on. I think initially, I was, at least at that point. I had been reading books on finance, entrepreneurship and things like that. And I was trying to find out where in the coffee industry, the money was being made, because it's always said that the farmers weren't making any money, and the people who own the cafés were complaining they didn't make enough money. And so just being curious, I just started following the production chain of coffee from being grown and harvested and shipped and imported and roasted and turned into drinks. And I was convinced at that point that somewhere in the middle was, was where, I guess the people who are doing the jobs in the middle–the middlemen there–were actually doing the work that kind of was able to grab most of the profit. I'm assuming it was because the producers were being forced to sell at a low price and the people at the cafés, were probably paying exorbitant rent prices. So, the people in the middle were just cleaning up. So, after I kind of figured out that, well, it's probably a good idea to vertically integrate the business model. So whatever piece of the production you can carry or have in-house or under one umbrella, so to speak is is probably going to be beneficial. It's just going to keep a few of those margins in-house and you have that operating budget.
Georgiana Dearing 05:18
So you took on the roasting as part of your like cafe business really initially. And now you're packaging it and selling, like, you're selling your coffee other places, right?
Brandon Belland 03:51
Correct. Yeah. So, if you're roasting your own coffee, you have a few avenues you can take. You can sell it retail, like we're doing at the counter at the cafe. You can wholesale it, buy it for other cafés or other restaurants, hotels, wherever your customer might be, and then you can also sell online. So, it gives you a direct-to-consumer possibility with the vertical integration to be able to factor in the margin of doing the roasting yourself.
Georgiana Dearing 05:55
Well, that's kind of cool that you identified that sweet spot that made sense for you.
Abby McAllister 06:01
If I could interject really quickly. And I would… you touched on the beans. And I think I would love Brandon, if you could talk a little bit about how you source your beans and the story behind that cooperative because that honestly is one of my favorite parts of Cordial. I didn't know it until, I don't know what, two years ago when I asked you, but you've always been sourcing like this, and I would love for you to talk a little bit about them.
Brandon Belland 06:27
Yeah, I guess if I can compare it to something it's like using, especially in this area, we have people who grow produce and there's just things that are created locally by really hard-working, well-intended people. And in the coffee industry, you can buy all grades of coffee from something so specialized that you know, there's only a quarter of an acre planted of one specific varietal and you'll pay 10 times what another coffee is going to cost. Or you can go all the way down to complete commodity grade, which is typically what's bought by the big commercial companies and just roasted one specific way. And that's fairly dark usually to cover up any bad flavors because that commodity coffee typically doesn't have any flavor attributes that are going to stand out and be something really delightful in the cup. So they'll just roast those very dark to taste the darkness, will add cream and sugar most likely and, and that's kind of the name of the game for the big commercial companies. So, that being said, you have a... what I was comparing it to here is like you can just– you can go to any store and buy some produce there. You don't really know what the story is, where it comes from, who grew it, or you can go and create a relationship with someone and buy their product and get to see the impact of your dollar at the farm level. So I've just been intentional about creating relationships with coffee growers. I don't have a lot of those relationships. It depends on really the country of origin and the way things are going in their country. Remember, even when I was 19, or 20, there were a couple times where we all of a sudden couldn't get coffee from a particular... like Rwanda, for instance, when all of that turmoil was going on in the country back then, like there was this all of a sudden, we weren't able to get coffee because there was all of this civil war and discourse going on. It just stopped the production. So it wasn't able to be done. So it does depend on the country, how they're doing, are people able to produce and get their product to port. But if that is all taken care of, and everything is going well in the country, then they can walk into the shop if, they have someone...if the family that grows coffee has someone like our Colombian coffee, for instance, the daughter of the farmer who lives here in the States, she came here intentionally as an Au Pair, learned English. The whole goal was to set up her own coffee company to import all of her family's meaning, he–or her–parents, her uncles and aunts. So I think she imports in between nine and a dozen different farms that are all fairly close to each other. And so all of the Columbia that I buy is through her, we have a personal relationship. I know her parents, I've been to their house in Colombia, and a couple of the other farms locally to visit them. And so I just love that. I just love that friendship that we have that I have with with her and her parents. And I know her brothers by name, and you know, it's like you're buying from your friends, and there's no better feeling than when she posts a picture of her parents doing the work in the field. And the look–I tried to explain it to a friend the other day–is a family who gets up every day at 5:30 or 6am goes out does some very manual labor every single day to provide as good a product as they can. They are just the most happiest people on earth. You can just see it in their face and tell it in their voice. And that's where I want my dollar to go. So it's important to me as a producer that the product is coming from an ethical, like a byproduct of ethical practices. So my goal is to feel as good as they do at the end of the day about what they're doing. So I try to be as intentional and just make sure that where I'm putting my money is going somewhere good.
Georgiana Dearing 10:22
Oh my goodness. I had no idea like what a direct line you had literally to the field, you know?
Brandon Belland 10:29
Yeah, I have enough direct trade accounts that if I, income providing, I do pay a premium for these coffees, they're not the same prices as something I would just get a run of the mill lot from another producer or importer. You know, I can pay upwards of two to three times as much for their coffee as I would you know a bag from somewhere that was just kind of farmed and brought in and sold. No name attached to it. No farm name is known, just sort of went to a processing station, got bagged and came over. But it's worth the extra money to have the product and so when it gets into my shop we make it a point to explain to people, like this particular coffee comes from this particular family. And they just came here, they actually came here and visited the roastery a few months back and like having them be able to take a break from what they're doing at the farm and fly here and come into my shop and roastery. I have never had more gratitude, I think in my entire life, That they would have enough time to come visit me here and see what I'm doing.
Abby McAllister 11:33
And another reason aside from the fact that Brandon, you and I have formed this really awesome relationship over the years and we're friends, but we also we first and foremost connected through business. So it's been a really cool friendship to have, but the reason that I wanted to have you on is because I think with a product like coffee, I think the assumption is that because it is a local roaster that you are getting this conscientiously purchased coffee bean and that is a generalization and also a misunderstanding on the sourcing of your coffee beans that are then imported. So I thought your mission on how you choose to purchase and therefore make your product really mesh with what George and I think see being what connects all of our guests on the podcast. And so I just I love that story so much and when you have them visit I thought that was just the coolest thing to see.
Brandon Belland 12:35
And because of the fact that their daughter, Jelima, came and moved to Alexandria and, or excuse me, Arlington, and sought out these relationships. She was a walk in customer one day and said I wanted to let you know my parents grow coffee in Colombia and I live in Arlington and, you know, I purchase all their coffee and have it imported. If you’d like to try some, she’d bring me home, as many free samples as I needed or wanted to create the relationship and I remember at 19 or 20, I kind of had this vision of myself sitting on the tailgate of an old truck at a coffee farm somewhere just talking or sharing a cup of coffee with the owner of the farm, and to realize that sort of dream or thought that that could one day happen was just outstanding. And it's a very visceral feeling for me to talk about the relationship I have with her family and the fact that they produce the product that I sell here to create my own life.
Abby McAllister 13:28
Mm hmm. Absolutely.
Georgiana Dearing 13:30
I have two questions, now. One is about volume and the other is about your reach. Like how far do you see Cordial Coffee going in sales? Like, do you have a geographic mindset of how far you would want to be selling out from? You're in Berryville right? I mean, is your roastery in Berryville?
Brandon Belland 13:51
Yep, we’re right here in Berryville on South Church. I remember telling, I think it was the owner of the food distributor that we use though, I mean, I'm utilizing them. They have a 100 mile radius that I think they deliver. But I'm even smaller than that. There are enough roasteries sort of sporadically placed in this region to where we're not flooding one area, but there's enough to supply I guess anybody in a 50 mile radius, maybe, or a 25 mile radius, I don't have any interest in getting in my car and driving hours and hours to just to land somewhere where the roastery across the street could have been supplying them. A lot of people pit their product against someone else and, sort of, I'm just not interested in spending that much time in a car. And the good part about that is that it lessens the footprint of what it takes to get the product to the customer. I literally only want to drive 30, 40 miles in one direction if I can help it, so I intentionally have a small delivery area. One because I do ship, I ship all over the country. So if they live way out of the area, I can get them coffee. But yeah, as far as the delivery radius or how much time I mean, I don't know...I feel like my focus, I can focus on serving a smaller community better rather than trying to spread myself out so much where I'm racking attention to be under serving people just because I'm stretched too thin.
Abby McAllister 15:20
And when you and Caitlin Bell started this business, you had the plan to roast for cafés, presumably, and then branch out and wholesale a little bit. Can you talk a little bit more about what the vision was for the business–on both sides–but also what your mission was and what your theory behind business is, in general, because you have a very, I would describe the cafés as extremely efficient. And then your wholesale as being very localized. And I think if you want to talk a little bit about that,
Brandon Belland 15:57
Sure. Yeah. Caitlin's from this area and she knows this area well enough to know that it really desperately needed a coffee place. She drank black coffee before it was cool to drink black coffee. And so her ability to spot an element of a coffee that wasn't roasted properly, or just something is off about it is great. So it's a good partnership. And then I roast this coffee, the best of my ability, how I would like to drink it, and she'll sort of back it up and be like, Yeah, that's good. But if we're going to use it for the cafe, like, can we do this? Or did you roast the espresso differently? It tastes this way. Or I'll say, I plan to roast the espresso using this bean rather than this bean this week, let me know if something changes or...It's a good partnership, and it's just constant checks and balances. And Berryville definitely needed a place. It's her hometown, so it's a good spot to have a roastery. And I don't know, I just think it worked out great. Like, it's just been all around in that. I mean, I'm an entrepreneur at heart. I always have been I didn't know how I was going to manifest when I was younger. But when I was in my mid 20s, I just sort of had this epiphany that like it was just gonna eventually have to be my own thing. Like, I just preferred choice over force. Like an entrepreneur, you have the choice to make you know, your schedule and what you want to do so, yeah, but I'm just very thankful for the way it worked out. And you said something about the efficiency, like, this is just an attribute of my character, or being, or whatever, it's just something that was there. I don't remember ever manifesting this or working on this as I guess what I mean, but that I just ironed out inefficiencies and everything just as the way I am as a person, so we intentionally got a shop that had a small footprint. We didn't feel like paying for extra square footage was necessary. Everything down to how much of each ingredient it takes to make waffle batter for our menu and....
Abby McAllister 17:56
Best waffles ever!
Brandon Belland 15:57
Yeah, just... And so just I feel like ironing out inefficiencies is in my nature. So I'm never going to run too lean, but I'm never going to have an excess as well. So I think I'm just going to...as a way to run the businesses in my life, it's going to be just what I need at that particular time. No more or less.
Georgiana Dearing 18:19
I was just going to confess, I will confess that your waffles and coffee were our very first outing after we had been quarantine for, for the pandemic. My husband and I, we just drove over and ordered and had them delivered to the car and then we went and sat in the parking lot just so we could have some. So, you make good stuff.
Brandon Belland 18:46
I’m delighted with how much people like the combination of waffles and coffee, and I've seen it pop up in numerous other places over the past four years. So...
Abby McAllister 18:53
So good. That's funny George because my first quarantine coffee when it was available curbside was Cordial. I got a Valencian, which is like an orange mocha. And I'm in Middletown now, but I will take that ride, especially when it was like the first opportunity to get my coffee out and about. I was like, I need this mocha in my life. Yeah, that was my first trip. It was so good. And I think your logo is super, I think it's minimalist, but it's very attractive. It's an attractive logo. It's not too minimalist, but I think it corresponds to the brand really well. I think it just, it's everything you want in a logo without being complicated and that is Cordial. Like it's everything you want in coffee in a coffee shop without being complicated. Or arrogant, pretentious?
Brandon Belland 19:45
Yeah, I constantly think about that. I love branding and thinking about branding and why people choose the things they do and I I love the fact that I definitely can see us selling coffee 50 years from now with the same exact logo on it. My friend Kendall just crushed it. I appreciate you saying that. And I feel the same way that it's a...I don't feel like, “Well, I have to rebrand every 10 years to to try and sort of find out what we want our product to reflect or look like.” Yeah.
Abby McAllister 20:10
And we were talking about expansion of wholesale, but do you know if you or Caitlyn see expanding the cafés at all outside of your footprint right now?
Brandon Belland 20:21
Yeah, this kind of goes back to what I just said about working with what we need at any point in time, depending on what we have, what we need and what what the goal is, we're always going to run with exactly what we need at that time. And just recently, we closed a location in Marshall, when COVID hit. Our lease was up anyway. And it was just, we asked the landlord if we could go month to month they didn't care to do that. So we were like, Okay, well, we're just gonna, we're just gonna pull it for now. That actually ended up turning into a wholesale account for us and they reopened it wholesale on their own accord. So that worked out and we had plans to open a spot in Stephens City, actually and at the last minute it got pulled for someone else who had already started renting from the landlord wanting to expand over into that space, unfortunately, that didn't happen. However, I say, unfortunately, but I don't feel like any good thing is ever really missed. You know? Like, it all just kind of comes at you and things either go or they don't go for whatever you're intended to do in your life. All right, it just, it wasn't available all of a sudden, and then go get hit again, like kind of all just happen so often or didn't happen, and it's been fine. And so yeah, we have an eye out for spaces. And as far as the economy goes, and like, you know, is now a good time to really do a brick and mortar or, you know, how's the square foot space over here? Like, a lot of that stuff is more of a gut feeling. For me, it's more intuitive. It's like how do I feel about the current economic state of things is, does it feel good to like go open a space or does it feel like I'm paddling against the current and I try to just do it as a gut feeling. It is nice because we always have Berryville going. We're always ironing out. Like I said, ironing out inefficiencies and figuring out what works, trying new menu things. We just started a new oatmeal option on our menu, which is really cool. We already have all the toppings for the waffle. So why not? This is like our, it's our hub. It's our headquarters, and we can prototype and do different blends and different menu items and things like that just to see how they go. And it's all just collecting data along the way to eventually like implement in a new spot one day or something.
Georgiana Dearing 22:27
Yeah. Abby, do you have any more questions?
Abby McAllister 22:30
Let me see...
Brandon Belland 22:32
That was long winded, and I feel like I may have missed something. But I hope that answered your question.
Abby McAllister 22:36
So no, I mean, we've hit all of my things I wanted to make sure you have an opportunity to talk about... so George, if you feel like you have some more stuff.
Georgiana Dearing 22:43
What I was going to do is I was gonna ask one quick one. I don't know if you have an answer for it or not. But is there something...you talked about being an entrepreneur and having that spirit. Is there something in your life that kind of drew you to the the food industry or was it just like you found things that you loved and turned it into your business?
Brandon Belland 23:06
I think food, a food product or like coffee in general...One, I loved coffee. But every project I've ever worked on or something I've been involved in, whether it's skatepark or coffee, or what. The common thread, and all of the projects or business avenues that I take is that there's some element of social glue in it. So there's some element of bringing people together in a lot of the projects
Abby McAllister 23:30
Do you feel like there is a moment in your life that led you to enjoy socializing or being in that setting of being social with those close to you or otherwise.
Brandon Belland 23:41
I think my parents really. My mom always was intentional about being the person to reach out to their friends to see if they wanted to hang out or, you know, we'd be my dad calls my mom The Road Runner, cause she was constantly driving to her friend's house, you know to hang out or just yeah, so I think it's just kind of in my DNA
Abby McAllister 24:01
So was she a food person?
Brandon Belland 24:03
My mom is all about food. I mean, we fight the same battles every day.
Abby McAllister 24:07
And I know your dad likes to barbecue because that's something you guys share.
Brandon Belland 24:13
Yep, again! There it is, again another like...a barbecue. Like a reason for people to get together and do something.
Georgiana Dearing 24:21
That’s excellent. So the last thing I was gonna ask is can you tell like our listeners where they can find you and what your like web address and social handles are? Just tell us all about Cordial Coffee so that people can find you?
Brandon Belland 24:35
Yeah, I mean, cordialcoffee.com. That's where you know people want to set up subscriptions or whole bean ordering if they live out of the area. The shop’s at * South Church Street in Berryville. And then on Instagram @cordialcoffeeco, the handle there. It's neat to look back at through the pictures on Instagram and just sort of see the progression of how the shop kind of turned out. I look back and like, Oh, we didn't even have that relationship with this producer back then. Or just all of the things. I love that.
Georgiana Dearing 25:04
Well, that was great. Thank you for taking time to do the interview and talking with us. And,, really, Abby, I'm really glad you brought him.
Abby McAllister 25:13
Yeah, Brandon, thank you so much. I mean, like I said, I'm grateful for you guys being a presence in the community and the kind of space you give everyone there and the quality of coffee you give. And thank you so much for coming on today.
Brandon Belland 25:26
I’m super glad to do it. I'm one of those few people that actually still likes to talk on the phone.
Georgiana Dearing 25:30
Thank you. Thanks.
Abby McAllister 25:32
Thanks, Brandon Belland of Cordial Coffee for being with us.
Brandon Belland 25:35
All right. Have a good one.
Georgiana Dearing 25:38
Georgiana Dearing 25:40
Thanks for listening. And if you want to learn more about how to grow your own food brand, then click on Grow My Brand at vafoodie.com. If you're a lover of local food, then be sure to follow us. We are @VAfoodie on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with Good Food, Good people, and Good Brands