This month, we're celebrating our 35th anniversary in the coffee biz!
To celebrate, we interviewed Sal and Jackie Calabrese, the couple with the original vision, and Richard Duncan, the keeper of this North Texas coffee legacy. It's Sal and Jackie's philosophies that provide the backbone for Addison Coffee Roasters, and Richard's vision that has propelled ACR to new heights. Take a rare glimpse into the history of the Addison Coffee Roasters you've all come to know and love.
Having just celebrated his 90th birthday this past April, Sal's dark brown eyes reveal an astute man, with a sparkle of what could be impish humor, but it could also put you in check with a glance. His gentle voice, not much over a whisper, hints at his kind character. Jackie's company is just as delightful- a no-nonsense straight-shooter with a wonderful sense of humor and an undeniable air of candor. Their shared modesty and altruistic focus, their dedication to ethical professionalism set the tone for the ACR you know today.
Sal & the Diedrich I.R.12
- What drew you to Coffee Tea & Trading Co. (CT&T Co.)? What was your vision for the company, and how did you go about making that vision a reality?
We already owned Country Cupboard in the Prestonwood Mall, so we'd been selling coffee for a while before we acquired CT&T Co. We knew the owners were looking to sell, so we made the jump. That was when we met Richard, then, the manager at CT&T Co. We started going to Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) conferences to learn more about coffee- industry standards, best practices, and innovations. As we became more educated, we began making incremental changes, like getting rid of non-coffee related merchandise inherited from previous owners, to better focus on coffee and tea.
- When you took over Coffee & Tea Trading Co., what was your business plan?
This was before Starbucks became so popular everywhere. We didn't really have a plan, just a drive to provide great coffee.
- Set the scene, how was Coffee & Tea Trading Co. different from the ACR we know today?
We were totally retail focused then, no wholesale at all. We bought our first roaster, a Diedrich I.R. 12, about a 26 lb. capacity, and installed it in the front window with the unroasted green coffee beans. Business picked up quickly! Then after another SCA conference, we were inspired to bring in an espresso bar. The roaster moved to the back of the store.
- How much did 1 lb. of coffee cost in the 80s? What was your most popular coffee then?
The average price for a pound was about $6.00. Colombia Supremo and Hazelnut Cream were the most popular requests.
- How did you know you had a success on your hands?
After the first Christmas! We bought CT&T Co. in October, and that holiday season we got so busy our commercial grinders were actually smoking!
- What prompted the decision to open Benchmark Coffee? Why did you choose a different name for this business?
We wanted to provide wholesale coffee, but we didn't want our customers to feel like they would be in direct competition with our retail business. So we opened up the store in Addison. Later we got a cease and desist letter saying that "Benchmark" and "coffee" were already in use, so we had to change it.
- When did you make the decision to retire and why?
When Richard finally acquiesced! We trusted that he would continue to grow the business, and that he would take care of it. But before we signed the papers, I told Richard, "There's one more thing: I get free coffee for life." He agreed.
- Describe how you felt handing over the reins to Richard.
We knew that he would care for the business. We're very proud of him!
- What are your thoughts on ACR's success?
Richard's success is our success. We are so proud of how the company has evolved. Richard is doing much better than we ever would or could.
Richard, a hard-working coffee fanatic, picked up where Sal and Jackie left off. Dedicated to providing the freshest, meticulously roasted coffee without charging "artisan" prices, Richard is not the kind of business owner that looks to simply turn a profit. For him, fairness matters, taking pride in your work matters, community matters. He took a few moments out of his very busy day to answer a questions that will shed light on how ACR developed into the establishment we recognize today.
Richard and the Diedrich I.R. 12
- Explain what brought you to from California to Texas in the early 80s?
I had just fallen in love with coffee. I still remember that it was a Guatemala Antigua that opened my eyes, after growing up thinking the awful stuff my parents made was coffee. Two dear friends from College lived here in the Dallas area and worked in a coffee store (which was CTT.) I thought I would enjoy being in the coffee business, and they thought I would be a good fit at CTT. I was at a point in my life when I was ready for a change, and wanted to do something I loved. So yeah, at the time it made sense to me to jump in the car and drive across the country to a place where I didn't have a place to live and might have a job waiting for me.
- Why the coffee industry, why not tea or spices?
I enjoy tea, and in recent years have become more interested in spices and cooking, but neither quite ignited the same passion is me as coffee.
- Describe your first foray into roasting coffee.
When we got our first roaster in 1984, there were few of the resources available to roasters today. Basically, the manufacturer of the roaster - a small Diedrich - came out and helped us set up the machine, then spent a few hours teaching us to roast. So a lot of what we did those first few years was trial and error, trying to fine-tune what we had been taught.
- How has working with Sal & Jackie changed your life?
I cannot imagine what my life would have been like had I not worked for Sal and Jackie. They taught me a great deal about running a business (okay, I'm still not great with the paperwork end of things, despite their best efforts,) and about providing excellent customer service. Perhaps most importantly, they showed by example that the values I had grown up with -values of honesty and respect for others- not only had a place in business, but were at the heart of good business. And, of course, they gave me a wonderful opportunity in trusting the future of Addison Coffee Roasters to me.
- With decades of coffee industry experience under your belt now, what do you still find compelling about the biz?
The world of coffee is ever-changing. Yes, there are trends, fads, that come and go, but there is always something new to learn. New origins, new flavors, new processing methods, new science that helps us to better understand why coffee tastes the way it does, and how we can best bring out all those complex flavors coffee offers. Perhaps most exciting of all is the increased focus on the farmers who produce the coffee, how critical they are to what we do, and how they connect us to the world. Coffee is its own wonderful and complex world, and if you keep your eyes open, you'll never get bored.
- Describe how the ACR of 10 years ago is different from ACR today.
There is no question that the ACR of today is more complex and faster-moving, than it was 10 years ago. I feel like Addison Coffee Roasters is growing up. We've always had a small-business focus. When I took over 12 years ago, it was my hope to continue to grow the company, but in a controlled manner that would allow us to maintain the values of quality, freshness, and customer service that have been hallmarks of the company from the beginning. I would say that to a large degree we have succeeded, though there have definitely been some growing pains, and of course we always strive to do better.
- What are your thoughts on the increase in momentum over the past 5 years?
It is gratifying to see our coffee embraced by more and more people, and to be discovered by more and more small businesses. I have also enjoyed our growing relationship with Central Market, a store that not only tolerates, but values our obsession with quality and freshness. But growth does create some challenges. In the last 5 years, we have had to work hard to modernize the way we operate, to create ways to offer all the things we did in the beginning to a larger group of customers.
- What is on the horizon for ACR?
We have just introduced an exciting new Limited Edition coffee, a Guatemala Antigua Bella Carmona Peaberry, which is stunning. In the next couple months, we will be introducing at least 2 more Limited Edition coffees, an Ethiopia and a Sumatra, which we are excited about. Early next year you will be seeing a new Addison Coffee bag on retail shelves around town. It will give us a more distinctive look, while emphasizing our heritage and the things that make us what we are. Longer term, we hope to grow our Limited Edition coffee series even more, to better share our excitement with that brave new world of coffee with our customers.
- What's your favorite ACR coffee?
This is a difficult question for me, because my "favorite" coffee is always changing. I love exploring the world of coffee, all the varied flavors that are available, and our Limited Edition program allows us to have fun exploring that world. So when we discovered Myanmar coffee, and the amazing strides being made by coffee farmers in Yemen, those became my favorites. The Brazil Moscardini Controlled Fermentation coffee, with its beautiful cherry notes, topped the list for a time. Currently I am loving the Antigua Peaberry, a reminder of that first coffee I fell in love with so many years ago. And tomorrow? Who knows? There is always something exciting and new on the horizon. But let's not forget the classics. Every once in a while I will taste a Costa Rica Tarrazu or New Guinea Peaberry and find myself saying "wow, that is a great coffee. How could I have forgotten it?"
And there you have it. It's been 35 years since inception, but here, we still stand- a seasoned, well-versed group of coffee geeks who simply love what we do. Addison Coffee Roasters doesn't aspire to conquer the coffee world, that's just not our way. We prefer to transform our nerdy passions for coffee into moments to interact and share with our community.
Thank you, Sal and Jackie for lighting the way. Thank you, Richard, for taking up the torch.
And thank YOU for allowing us to be a part of your lives!