The year was 1994… back then, cell phones were bigger, gas was cheaper, and Classic Coffees had just opened its doors for business. The quaint little shop off of Six Forks Road in Raleigh, NC was founded by two friends looking to own their own business. Little did they know, twenty years later the small business would still be an adventure never anticipated.
It all started with a bag of beans. While working as an accountant, Jeff Vojta, co-founder and CEO of Stockton Graham & Co., received a bag of gourmet coffee as a gift. After sipping a cup of the gourmet brew, Jeff was astonished to find that the coffee actually tasted good, better than he ever thought coffee could taste! So when he and a friend started talk of going into business together, they decided to go into the business of coffee. The pair chose to open their own coffee shop, not only because of the profitability of coffee, but because coffee is something that people are passionate about. They felt that coffee brings people together, not only in cafés, but as a globally traded commodity. Jeff has said, “Coffee is a unifying force, bringing people of all cultures and backgrounds together to do business and create something special.”
In May 1994, Classic Coffees was a 744 sq. ft. store that featured local artists’ work, gourmet desserts, and of course, specialty coffee. The dream was to become a national retail store. After asking customers, friends and family what they liked and disliked about coffee, the business partners realized the market demanded craft-roasted, specialty offerings. In 1996, the founders opted to expand the original store to nearly 2,000 sq. ft. to include a 12 kilo Petroncini roaster. Jeff roasted the first batch and learned by trial-and-error what worked and what didn’t. He even remembers setting the cooling tray on fire! They eventually got the hang of roasting after going to lots of trade shows, trading knowledge with other roasters and experimenting in their shop.
During the next several years, the company expanded into four retail locations operating in Raleigh and landed wholesale accounts throughout North Carolina and Virginia. They began selling their coffee to other coffeehouses, gourmet specialty stores, fine dining and other establishments wanting to serve craft-roasted coffee. Due to the high demand of wholesale coffee, Classic Coffees Roasting Company was created as a wholesale roaster and distributor.
While running their growing business, the partners had to find the right products to satisfy their café customers’ demands. The specialty beverage industry was growing, and customers wanted unique, tasty drinks. Jeff remembers, “This was back before Starbucks had frappes. It was summer time, and we were wondering where all our customers had gone.” They realized they needed cool and refreshing beverages to drive traffic during the warmer months, so they started offering blended beverages and iced drinks. As they diversified the products they offered, they ran into a new challenge: tracking down the right product mix. Twenty years ago, securing product included a lot of time on the phone with multiple vendors and a lot of hassle. The entrepreneurs had to jump through hoop after hoop to make sure they had the quality product they wanted for their business. They started buying products in bulk and would sell what they didn’t use to other stores in the area that wanted the same high quality products.
Thus, the wholesale business was born. By mid 1999, the four “Classic Coffees” retail locations were sold to focus shifted to the the growing wholesale coffee and specialty beverage product business. In 2001, the name of the company was changed to Stockton Graham & Co and the company settled in at the 4320 Delta Lake Drive address in Raleigh.
Today, the company owns the entire building and the roaster is a bit bigger. They upgraded to include 30 and 60 kilo Ambex roasters to provide artisan roasted coffees to customers across the United States. Stockton Graham & Co. has also assembled a team with over 100 years combined experience in the coffee industry that offers business advice in addition to providing high-quality coffee and beverage products.
While the company has grown in size and capabilities, the core values and vision remain focused on offering customers the highest quality specialty coffees, knowledge and tools. This enables our customers to offer superior hand-crafted espresso and specialty, made-to-order drinks. Stockton Graham & Co. prides itself on blending the art of coffee roasting and drink preparation with the business of coffee including: consultation, equipment, advice and specialty products to help build superior and successful coffee businesses.
Jeff’s “Keys to Success” After Twenty Years in the Business of Coffee:
- Listen to your customer.
- Surround yourself with a good team.
- Treat your staff and customers fairly, and work with people with the same goal.
- Stick to your values and quality of product.
- Business is about people. Keep them at the heart of your decisions.