The Stockton Graham & Co. Story: 20 Years and Counting

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.

stockton graham & co. turns 20

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.”

stockton graham & co. turns 20

 

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.SGC

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.

photo 33While 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.

Peaberry Coffees

peaberryWhat we call coffee beans are really the pits of the coffee cherry. The “beans” are stripped of the fruit and dried before they become the green beans we use for roasting. The standard cherry has two coffee beans inside its fruit. Coffee trees produce a few undersized berries as a result of low sunlight and various other factors, and these berries have only one coffee bean inside. These smaller pea shaped coffee beans are called “Peaberry” beans.

Every coffee producing country grows peaberry coffee, as they normally appear at the tips of coffee tree branches. A special screen separates the standard berries from the peaberrys and they are collected for processing.  Since a peaberry has only one bean where there is normally two, that one bean absorbs all the flavor. Stockton Graham & Co. Roastmaster Brandon Riggs says, “There is so much flavor packed into the one bean. You will normally find intense and bright flavor notes in your brewed peaberry coffees.”

Here at Stockton Graham & Co. we offer several varietals of peaberry including: Tanzania, Kenya and Brazil. The Tanzanian Peaberry was selected because of its strong level of acidity. The fragrance of this brewed coffee, brings sweet honey like notes to you senses and entices one to enjoy this cup. The enhanced flavor of the peaberry makes the acidity and citrus notes amplified. With it’s bright flavor and creamy body, this coffee will delight a seasoned coffee connoisseur and intrigue your general coffee drinkers. The Kenya Peaberry has bright and peppery acidity, which adds a unique liveliness to your cup. The aroma of this coffee is full of berry notes and spice. This exceptional cup of coffee is smooth and has a long lasting aftertaste. Kenya produces some of the world’s best peaberry beans and this Kenyan is no exception.

If you are looking for an explosion of natural flavor in your coffee, we highly suggest sampling one of our peaberry options. Since peaberry is selected so carefully you can expect to have quality beans in your cup. A premium coffee, there is nothing to compare to the intense flavor notes that a peaberry will offer you. Because peaberrys are round they must be roasted with the utmost delicacy since they tend to roll around more in the roaster and here at Stockton Graham & Co. we are proud to be able to offer these elite and rare varietals of coffee to our customers. Contact our Customer Care Associates or your Sales Representative at 800.835.5943  to request samples to try these coffees in your coffee shop.

Understanding Espresso

espressoWhen Jeff Vojta and his partners started their first coffee shop in 1994, he knew espresso preparation and quality would make or break it. Looking to find the perfect espresso for his customers, he began the art of roasting coffee and exploring creating his own. This was the humble beginnings of what we now call Stockton Graham & Co., and espresso quality is still at the forefront of what we strive to offer our customers.

To better understand the importance of espresso in your shop, let’s discuss what it is. Espresso is a drink made from an process that  quickly extracts the essence of the coffee flavor from the grounds by applying pressure. The ground coffee is pressed with steam through an espresso machine. This machine was created in the twentieth century by Italian inventors experimenting with perfecting coffees made with steam.

According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the proper espresso brewing ratio is defined as a shot of espresso (25 – 35 ml) prepared from 7-9 grams of coffee. Since the coffee is brewed so intensely, it only takes 20-30 seconds to get it right. There are many factors that go into good espresso besides the coffee. The machine, the grinder and the barista are the main contributors to perfection.

Some believe espresso beans come from a special “espresso” coffee plant, but this is untrue. The coffees used, in general, for espressos are regular coffee beans. Some single origins don’t make great stand-alone espresso, but when they are blended with others to bring out nuances, you can find success. Our most popular espresso blends are our Midnight Lotus, and Milano. Don’t be mistaken, there are a few single origins finding success as espressos, including our Papua New Guinea.

Our Roastmaster, Brandon Riggs, explains what makes Papua New Guinea single origin work, “The balance of sweet and acidic makes this coffee unique. It is wet processed, which is different for Indonesian coffees and makes for a good quality shot of espresso. As with any espresso, balance is key.”

Espressos are constantly evolving, and here at Stockton Graham & Co. we know our pursuit to have great quality is never ending. Our roasters put a lot of time and energy into continuously perfecting our espresso options, and always evaluate them based on SCAA standards. To get the best out of any espresso, you should strive to brew in accordance to these regulations. Our Basic Barista Certification Program teaches you how to prepare espresso within these specifications so you can serve accurate, consistent espresso shots in any specialty coffee shop.

To succeed in the world of specialty coffee, quality espresso is important. At Stockton Graham & Co., we offer the experience and dedication to assist you in finding the espresso and espresso machines best suited to your needs. To learn more, read our espresso philosphy, browse our espresso options and call 800.835.5943 to discuss more with our Customer Care Associates.

Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras Promotions for your Coffee Shop!

heart2With the annual celebration of both Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras, February could prove to be a very festive month for your café! The first step in getting ready for these occasions is decorating accordingly! Be sure to put up hearts and other Valentine’s décor to get people’s hearts racing from something other than your coffee drinks! For Mardi Gras, bring your shop to life with colorful decorations and even have some carnival Mardi Gras masks laying around for photo opportunities! In addition to decorating, here are some promotional ideas from our customers to run during the festivities!

Valentine’s Day – Thursday February 14, 2013
To make sure you include all of your customers in your shop promotions, aim towards just celebrating love, over Valentine’s Day. Why not show your customers some love and offer discounted specialty beverages all day! Or have a small “treat” ready to show your appreciation, for example a small chocolate for each customer or a free flavor shot.

Create a Valentine’s mailbox, every purchase gets their name and email on a “valentine” to drop in. The idea is to draw a name for a prize, maybe a bag of your retail coffee! Ask guests if you can add their email address to your coffee shop’s newsletter or internet promotions listing. Make sure to mark who says yes or no, so you are not spamming and alienating any customers.

Encourage those who have significant others to make visiting your shop part of their date night, by offering a buy-one-get-one deal on drinks. Dim the lighting to set the mood for couples dropping by after dinner. The romantic coffee shop setting is always fun after dining out!

Team up with your community to offer great Valentine’s Day promotions. Your chocolatier or bakery could assist you in creating coffee and chocolate gift baskets for Valentine’s day! Incorporate a local florist to make flower arrangements that you could display and sell, or let them display in your shop with their sign and no cost to you! Really branch out by setting up a sampling station at the flower shop for customers to taste your coffee, while picking up their flower arrangements. This way, you are getting people to sample your coffee that may have never done so otherwise.

Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday is February 12, 2013 but Mardi Gras celebrations begin weeks before.
Contact your baker and have them create a signature Mardi Gras King cake of cupcakes for your shop! Cupcakes are very on trend right now and portion sizes are easier to maintain. For a “café twist” on this classic tradition replace the baby figurine that is customarily hidden in the cake with a chocolate covered coffee bean, making all of your customers a King or Queen! Keep it classic and offer a free beverage to the customer that purchases the “good luck” cake with the baby figurine inside!

If you have the accommodations bring in a live band to entertain your customers with a Mardi Gras party! Consider operating under extended hours and offering drink specials if your café serves alcoholic beverages as well as coffee. This could be especially popular on Fat Tuesday!

Host Mardi Gras happy hour with signature drink specials from 4pm-7pm to increase some afternoon traffic! If you have a strong morning crowd, apply the “happy hour” concept from 7am-10am or whenever your busiest time is!

Perhaps bring in Stockton Graham’s Banana Foster or Pralines & Cream flavored coffee for the week as a special Mardi Gras treat. It’s something new for your customers to try, directly related to the holiday!

Holidays are a great way to connect with your customers and learn more about them. Take advantage of these two celebrations to learn more about your guests and have fun! If you would like more suggestions on coffee event planning, or have any other questions please give us a call at 800.835.5943.

Check out our other Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras themed blogs!:
Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras coffee drink recipes
Valentine’s Day Drink Ideas To Steal Your Heart!
Great Valentine’s Day Recipe: Cinnamon Twist White Mocha
Torani’s Bananas Foster Syrup Is Just In Time For Mardi Gras
Featured Seasonal Coffees for the 1st Quarter of 2012