Danny O’Neill says he wasn’t a coffee drinker until college, and then that changed.
“I just absolutely love it, crave it. Still dream about it at night,” he says.
But it took a while to come around to founding the Roasterie, which has become one of the better known homegrown businesses in Kansas City.
The corporate world, he said, was dampening his enthusiasm.
“So I wanted to do something different, and coffee was the only idea that I had,” he said.
Maybe a coffee shop? Friends insisted that wouldn’t work. A popular business book suggested taking a year away, so he did that.
But he wanted to sell coffee, so he started, working out of the basement of his home in Brookside. For three months, door to door, he got nothing but “no.”
Then, 20 years ago last month, he made a sale. Today the Roasterie sells a lot of coffee, and it has three cafes, a story O’Neill, the company’s founder and owner, related at Wednesday’s Independence Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.
“We want that coffee to be cool and fun and just extraordinary in every way,” he said.
Over the years, he said, the company’s basic focus has not changed: Buy the best coffee beans, roast them in the best way, deliver them as quickly as possible.
“We’re just really about that,” he said.
The company buys beans from more than 30 countries, and he said it tries to get involved in helping those communities. The appeal to customers, he said, is great coffee and the bonus of knowing that the company is helping out.
Employees with the company for five years get to go on a company trip to Costa Rica.
“So to connect what they do on a given day with the tree, with the farmer, is just huge,” he said.
He said the company is happy to be in Kansas City rather than either coast, and he said he sees growth ahead.
“We’re 20,” he said, “but we’re just getting started.”
The meeting also included some chamber business, such as recognizing incoming and outgoing board members.
The 2013 chair of the board, Stan Shurmantine, pointed to new programs begun in the last year, such as Tech Connect Tuesdays, Business Leads Exchanges, the small business continuing education series, a breakfast honoring first responders and, last summer, the first “In the City” Day.
“We re-established a culture of being a true membership organization,” he said.
As the 2014 chair, Cindy McClain, began her remarks, several people began going from table to table, handing out warm chocolate-chip cookies.
Remember Midwest Airlines, McClain asked?
There were nods and chatter as she reminded people that the airline used to be well known for that treat toward the end of a flight. It was memorable and it worked, she said.
“That chocolate-chip cookie was added value. It added to the experience,” she said.
“That’s what I’m hoping the chamber can be for your business this year – extra value,” she added.