For one Brooklyn business, the pandemic has proved to be somewhat of a boom. Shared Roasting, a co-roasting coffee facility at 43 Washington Avenue, near Flushing Avenue, in Clinton Hill, has signed on more than 20 new clients since January this year, with many businesses signing on during the pandemic due to Shared Roasting’s relatively affordable rates.
“It was initially a scary time in March and April trying to readjust like everyone else,” says Jeff Wong, one of the co-founders of Shared Roasting. “But it’s been a fun and exciting ride since, and we’re really grateful for all the interest in Shared Roasting.”
Since its launch late last year, Shared Roasting has signed on clients like Sunset Park Yemeni coffee shop Yafa, relatively new Crown Heights joint High Grade Coffee, and Bushwick-based Vietnamese coffee purveyor Nguyen Coffee Supply.
To roast its own coffee, cafes often need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to purchase pricey roasting equipment or get their coffee from bigger, national brands like Blue Bottle or La Colombe. This often limits the growth of small, independent coffee shops, some cafe owners tell Eater, and reduces their ability to work and source directly from coffee producers.
Shared Roasting is looking to upend that hierarchy. Cafes, e-commerce brands, restaurants, and wholesalers get to use Shared Roasting’s 6,000-square-foot, two-story facility for their roasting needs for an hourly rate that ranges anywhere between $60 to $400 depending on the size and the needs of a business. The co-roasting establishment takes care of managing and maintaining the machines, clean up, and carrying heavy bags of coffee beans.
Shared Roasting attempts to make it easier for smaller businesses: contracts can end at anytime, there are no minimum requirements for roasting, and registrations fees are non-existent. This allows clients to use the facility once a month or daily depending on their needs.
Over the course of the pandemic, Shared Roasting has expanded its hours to remain open on weekends to accommodate a growing client base while also ensuring social distancing and the fewest number of people in the space at the same time.
In addition to the roasting side of the business, Wong and his partner Howard Chang have also been hosting business classes for their clients including information on signing leases, accounting, and, of course, roasting and barista lessons.
“We really wanted to emphasize the educational aspect with this business,” says Wong. “It’s been growing faster than we thought, and we want to help people open cafes.”
Sahra Nguyen, the founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply, says Shared Roasting has been critical to her business’ survival during the pandemic. When the first city-wide shutdown hit in March, Nguyen says business was down 30 percent. However, her company was able to double down on roasting and significantly expand its e-commerce business. “The support has been instrumental,” says Nguyen.
What’s more, Nguyen says, businesses like hers wouldn’t exist without co-roasting facilities like the one established by Wong and Chang. “It eliminates the barriers for anyone who wants to enter the business,” says Nguyen. “The shared concept really deconstructs the classist, hierarchical model you have to follow in order to succeed in this industry.”
Ali Suliman, the co-owner of Yafa Cafe, shares similar sentiments. After joining Shared Roasting about four months ago, Suliman says he’s seen a marked shift. “The profit margins are 100 percent better,” says Suliman. “The coffee tastes fresher and the customers seem to enjoy it longer too.”
Working with Shared Roasting has helped Suliman expand the delivery arm of his business, he says, and along with getting to work with more Yemeni coffee producers, the co-roasting facility has also connected Suliman with producers in South and Central America.
“It is really a game changer for so many places like us,” says Suliman. “It is less of a reliance on corporate coffees. If you’re a small batch roaster, and you truly believe in equitable and just coffees, then this is it for you.”
Wong and Chang — both of whom have prior coffee and drinks experience having opened establishments like Bushwick’s Space Craft Coffee and Lantern Hall between them in the past — decided to open Shared Roasting in 2019 with an interest in investing in small businesses and making the coffee business accessible to a much wider audience. At the time of its opening last year, Shared Roasting offered classes to the public and opened up the space for tours by appointment. That’s been put on pause during the pandemic, but Chang says he’s hopeful they will be able to resume sometime next year.