This Couple’s Quest for a Perfect Cup of Coffee Led to a Thriving Business
Scott Angelo doesn’t have time to wait for a break in this Florida downpour.
He dashes from the car to the front door of Oceana Coffee’s primary location, the Roasting House, shakes off the rain and disappears.
A short while later, he emerges from a back storage room, pushing a plastic cart loaded with buckets of what looks like thousands of large green garden seeds — and a laptop.
The green seeds are actually coffee beans. The computer helps him keep a close eye on time and temperature.
He’s ready to roast some coffee, 11 pounds at a time.
“A Business Born Out of Desperation”
Oceana Coffee is a second career for Scott, formerly an engineer, and his wife Amy, previously a teacher. After they met in Florida’s Treasure Coast area, they hit the road together — or, rather, the high seas. They worked on the same private yachts, traveling for seven years before settling in Brisbane, Australia, for a while.
The coffee there? It was really good.
“We realized what a fresh roast really was,” Amy says.
When they got back to Florida in 2009, they just weren’t satisfied with the quality of the coffee they could get. So Scott started reading online forums and experimenting with roasting techniques to see if he could replicate the roasting style that was so popular in Australia.
“It was a business born out of desperation,” Amy admits.
Scott bought an air popper on eBay for $35, then reengineered it to roast coffee, a quarter cup of beans at a time. But that wasn’t going to work for long for a couple who admits they can easily drink four cups of coffee a day. Each.
So they started roasting small amounts of green coffee beans on the stovetop and in the oven. They tried several other methods that all “failed miserably.”
The next best solution: baskets on a rotisserie barbecue in Amy’s mom’s garage, where they could roast five pounds at a time.
Friends and family caught on to Scott and Amy’s coffee. They set up a simple website and would meet people in gas station parking lots to hand off their orders like “your local caffeine dealer,” Amy explains.
They spent Saturday mornings at farmers markets convincing people their coffee was worth the price, and handed out sample after sample at local events. The couple knew the rotisserie grill wasn’t going to do it anymore.
An Early Focus on Jobs — and Careers
The hulking, grass-green coffee roaster that sits by the front door of the roasting house has been a staple of Oceana Coffee since 2011. The Angelos bought it from a business that had closed in North Carolina, had it delivered, and opened up shop in Tequesta, Florida, after selling their house in Australia.
“It was always open to the public,” Amy remembers, “which was probably a crazy idea, because we had a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old.”
While customers would pop in during the day for by-the-pound purchases or a cup of joe to go, Oceana Coffee was perhaps busiest after dark.
Scott still had a full-time job as a project manager, working long days before spending hours peering into the roaster at night. Amy would bring the kids and dinner to the shop so they could all eat together in the 900-square-foot space.
“As much as we would like to micromanage and get in and do it ourselves, we’ve never been able to because we have young kids,” Amy says. “That’s forced us from the beginning to hire people.”
Between their two locations (the second, a coffee lounge, opened in February 2015) and their wholesale business, Scott and Amy have about 20 employees, several of them full-timers on salary.
“If I have to make every cup of coffee here, we’re going to be a mom-and-pop shop forever,” Amy says. “But if we can create some great jobs for local people… we can grow this thing exponentially.”
“It Nearly Killed Us”
“I can pull money from all sorts of places,” Amy says. She and Scott got a loan to open their coffee lounge, which surprised her since bank lending has been so tight since the recession. “Much of the business was built on American Express,” she shrugs.
Amy doesn’t deflect or mince words when she talks about the brief period when Oceana had three retail locations.
“It nearly killed us,” she says softly. “It nearly put us out of business.”
Shortly after they opened their larger coffee lounge a few blocks away from the roasting house, Scott and Amy opened a third location, about 20 miles north in Stuart, Florida.
But it was too soon for such rapid expansion and it drained both time and money. They worked with SCORE small business mentors for a crash course in their financials and how they could turn that mistake into a positive experience.
The Angelos sold the location less than a year after they opened it in March 2015. “It was the best possible scenario, because we gained a wholesale customer,” she says.
Dropping the third location gave the Oceana Coffee team brain space to prepare for an increasing number of wholesale orders.
More than a year ago, Whole Foods agreed to carry their coffee. The initial order finally arrived in May. They’ll start in Florida’s four Palm Beach County stores, with potential to sell to locations beyond their home base.
They spent $13,000 on a weigh-and-fill machine that packages coffee without human hands needing to scoop and weigh the beans. They bought a machine to pack K-cups, which will also be on the shelves at Whole Foods. And they have 60 other wholesale accounts.
Last year, they roasted more than 47,000 pounds of coffee. This year? Scott stays conservative, while Amy is willing to throw out bigger numbers. It’s going to top 50,000, for sure. Maybe 60,000. Maybe more.
Looking Ahead, 35 Pounds of Coffee at a Time
Oceana Coffee has won 11 medals, four of them in Australia where their preferred roasting style was born.
“I must be doing something right if I haven’t done any schooling for coffee and I’m entering and winning competitions,” Scott says.
In May, Scott and Amy welcomed a new roaster to help them speed up production.
It roasts 35 pounds at a time, and its laptop hookup allows for automation of the roasting process for various recipes. Scott’s apprentice, if he ever finds the perfect one, will be able to press a button to activate one of Scott’s tried-and-true roasting profiles.
They’re thinking about keeping the green roaster too, and for now, they sit side by side at the roasting house.
Scott and Amy both admit they’re still learning about the many ways to roast, brew and serve coffee. Scott would love to work with farms instead of a broker, to build relationships at the point of origin for the coffee he roasts. He’s been invited to visit farms, but has been too busy roasting to take them up on the offers.
More retail is on the horizon, which will require more jobs, he says. “We’re going to work together to teach people while delivering great coffee.”
Meanwhile, his original air popper-turned-coffee roaster sits in a basket tucked into a corner of the coffee lounge, a brushed-aside relic of desperation and determination.
Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.
Heather Comparetto (IG: heatheretto) is a photographer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s exhibited her photographs internationally, loves the ocean, and enjoys coffee and tacos (but not together).