Coffee Lore Presents Rose Park

Rose Park Roasters is a staple in Long Beach, Ca.  The stories I've heard of these two owners is unlike anything I've ever heard.  Their shop is tucked into the Rose Park neighborhood and is truly an extension of the Rose Park district.  Andrew Phillips and Nathan Tourtellotte are the owners that shared their social values, the vision of Rose Park Roasters, their history, and how they answered my question "Would you do it again" will explain how hard it is to run a coffee shop/roastery.  We strive to have conversations with local owners and roasters in Los Angeles.  Please comment below if you would like us to talk with a specific roaster.  Enjoy!

 Andrew Phillips (Left) and Nathan Tourtellotte (Right) + Cute Baby

Andrew Phillips (Left) and Nathan Tourtellotte (Right) + Cute Baby

Interview

Matthew: How did each of you guys get into coffee?

Nathan:  That was entirely through Andrew.  We were roommates in Long Beach after college.  He was doing a masters program and working at Pete's.  I had zero connection to coffee but I wanted to start a business.  I've always wanted to start a business.  At that time I was a police officer in LA and I knew I didn't want to do that my whole life.  At one point we talked about starting a business and Andrew had a huge expertise in coffee.  He wanted to move in the direction of roasting instead of barista and management role he was in.  It was really after we started Rose Park that I was actually exposed to good coffee.  Specialty complex fruity interesting coffee was after the fact that we started Rose Park. 

Andrew:  It was my first job.  13 years old. I was kind of a latchkey kid growing up in Murrieta/Temecula area.  I had friends rehabbing a bar into a coffee shop.  I was kind of the kid hanging around them.  They told me to get a work permit so I got a work permit.  The shop wasn't specialty like we know we were pulling blended drinks.  I have this picture of me with a portafilter with long hair and pimples.  Ya so I did that all the way through high school, undergrad, and grad school.  Nathan and I met in college at Biola.  Nathan was part of a Great Books program and my friend was in that too.  That's how I met everybody in that world.  

Matthew: How do we get to people delivering Rose Park via bike?

Nathan: It was a long process. It was a 2 year period between when we decided to do it and when we sold our first bag. End of 2008 when we started. Beginning of 2010 we started selling online bags and the end of 2010 we had our first wholesale account. It was around a two year period between let’s do it and how do we do it. We didn’t have enough money to buy a roaster, we don’t know if Long Beach is interested in this kind of coffee. Do you remember when you start roasting at Kean Andrew?

Andrew: Yeah. It was right around 2009 right before I got married. I learned how to roast from Mike Sheldrake. He gave me my first roasting lesson. It was around $100 a lesson and it was about 6-8 weeks. His training was me roasting his coffee. After the 6-8 weeks he said alright you’re good you’re a Journeyman now. And I was like I don’t think I know anything. I felt confident pulling the roaster levers but I had no idea. So he told me if I want to try the best espresso I’ve ever will have go to Martin Diedrich in Newport Beach/Costa Mesa. I tasted it and it was a whole new world for me. Tasting coffee there is like chocolate, nuts, and to me Kean was sour. But I knew it was great and pretty cutting edge stuff so I stalked Martin for two weeks and stuck my hand in his face. I said to him, “I want you to hire me as a roaster and I want to start my own company.” Luckily he was starting opening up his roastery. I apprenticed with Ted who was my roasting Sensei. I trained under Ted for a few months and started doing it at Kean on my own. I was there for about 4 and a half years. It was a weird slow transition to starting to do Rose Park and then full time Rose Park there. Greenhouse was our first account.

Nathan: In the beginning we knew we had to get off the ground somehow. We asked Martin to use his roaster and he was like sure. He let Andrew use his roaster and in the beginning he didn’t even charge us. It was like 20 pounds and Andrew was already roasting Kean’s coffee so he would do ours after. We were buying coffee from Sweet Maria’s and Coffee Shrub.

Andrew: It was our coffee I didn’t use any of Martin’s contacts because I wanted to make sure the lines were really clear. We did a couple orders of 20 pounds from Sweet Maria’s and when we jumped to 50 pounds it was a big deal for us. That is one of the reasons I am in deep with Cafe Imports now. Because a friend had a contact at an importing company out of Minneapolis and I was like ok. I talked to their contact and I realized this guy really knew a lot about coffee. It ended up being one of their QC guys later but he started in sales. Eventually he passed me off to the next sales guy and I knew nothing about contracts or anything at this point.

I didn’t know about getting a sample, roasting it, and approving the sample the standardized way of doing it. He sent me a sample and I roasted it and cupped it. It was like 2 weeks later when I got back to him. When I contacted him the coffee was already gone. At the time it was a really big deal. I was like the one coffee I found that I liked and I didn’t know what to do. I was so out of my mind stressed. I called him up and I was half angry and half can you help me kind of thing.

I didn’t know what I was doing so I kind of just reacted. He is their head green buyer now and he called the person that bought the entire lot. He asked to let go of 1 bag. At this point I wasn’t buying an entire 132 pound bag. I’m asking him to break a bag up. They literally got a guy to break open one of his bags and sold me 50 pounds of that bag. It was just really constant and they were always very helpful. Eventually I got hooked up with Joe Marrocco and Joe was another resource for any roasting questions I had and just really good stuff.

Matthew: A lot of times people will give you advice or tell you how to run your business. As owners, how do you navigate those conversations? How do you guys receive feedback?

Andrew: On a day to day basis I am reactive. I usually react and I am hurt, I try and figure it out, and sometimes I am dismissive. But that’s not the goal.

Nathan: How do you think you comoe off to them? I would be very surprised if they described you like that.

Andrew: Maybe internally I think this. Regardless, it causes me to talk even though I should talk a second to wait to answer. If someone has feedback you through it in the rubric and if it sticks then we keep it. As dudes we get feedback a lot less. People like to give women more feedback. I’m sure I get a lot less feedback compared to another demographic. For me, that’s perspective and you can say what you want to say. Half the time it’s right and the other half it isn’t.

Nathan: People approach us with the tone of I want to be helpful but women business owners probably get asked in a much more condescending way. The question isn’t like you should do it this way that would be good. It’s more of a let me tell you. With that being said even the innocent feedback is a challenge to respond well. I think as a brand we error on the side of being nice about it. In an ideal world we would know how to take very complex cans of warms that people bring up and really engage in a genuine conversation. I don’t think we do this well as Rose Park. As myself and I think both of us are people pleasers. I don’t want to start conflict, I am terrified of people having legitimate argument.

Andrew: I think you’re less of a people pleaser Nathan.

Nathan: If I am 100% confident in my position I am willing to play that out. I’m terrified about people having legitiment criticism about me that I can’t change. So I think we error on the side of pleasant and agreeable people. I don’t think that is always good. As a business if you can represent your perspective but that’s still welcoming. Being loving to your customer base and your community that is ideal. Welcome to your space and welcome to your product.

I would like our brand to be deeper and more honest with social justice views. Even challenge our customers with that stuff in a way that is not offensive or a “them or us” situation. Also, it’s not just choosing not to engage.

Andrew: True love is you challenge when it’s appropriate. Lovingly challenge people.

Nathan: That also means we have to actually love people. We can’t just take it and I am not great at that.

Andrew: You have to be aware and then you have to be honest. Then you got to do it.

Matthew: Why don’t you guys do pour overs?

Nathan: I still say about every 6 months…maybe we can do pour overs. I’m still drawn to it. It still may hold a place in third wavy shops and lose it’s place on being standard. We released our Highlight Coffee’s and they’re extremely expensive for us to buy and to resell it. But we still want our retail customers to have access to it. Then it might make sense to have a coffee to offer on pour over from those Highlight Coffee’s. The extra labor cost becomes a smaller issue and you don’t have to waste an entire batch of exquisite coffee. We almost never waste our other coffee because we offer two choices and go through each batch pretty quick.

We want to hit both sides of the spectrum and offer our really great speciality coffee on batch brew and we also want to be pushing boundaries of offering better coffee’s. We know those coffee’s exist but they might only end up in competition and normal coffee drinkers might never get an opportunity to drink them. Our Highlight Coffee Series is us trying to access some of those coffee’s.

Andrew: I have very strong views on this. Every morning I usually do an Aeropress, V60, or Kalita. There is something so beautiful about that manual process when you do it at home. At home there is something very intimate about it. In a shop I see the desire to replicate that but I get annoyed by all the cons of it. It is way inefficient in terms of cost of labor and that stuff and compared with the systems we have setup now it’s way less consistent. If someone is coming into our shop to buy a $5 coffee and depending on that baristas mood and a lot of things it can be not that great. And that makes me angry. That customer is paying a lot of money for something. Also, there is the hint of pretension that can be in it as well. In a really good batch brew I can offer something that is more consistent than any barista.

It’s not an argument for batch brew versus manual brew but I can give my customers a much more consistent experience without manual brewing.

Matthew: If you both know what you know now would you guys do it again?

Andrew: When I was roasting at Kéan and people would come ask me about opening up a coffee shop and it got to one point when I told people you don’t want to do that. Almost as a way to vet people out. They just want to drink coffee and enjoy it. Which is fine but that is not owning a coffee shop. There was a specific turn of events for me but there was also a long ass grind that was very challenging. Knowing that things are turning out not the way we wanted, this is extremely hard, thinking we are not going to survive financially. The continuation of long term stress. We both started our families around the same time. All of this made me realize it was not what I thought it was going to be.

I think a lot of people forget that it’s just work. There’s just a lot of hard stuff that we don’t know how to do and we learn. Would I do it again? Yes but…

Nathan: If we were back in that apartment and I was like let’s start doing wholesale to sell to all these shops and know that it would be total failure. It would take us 5-6 years before we get any kind of traction and then it will be another 3-4 years until we think we might be profitable next year. Would you say yes let’s do it again if we can’t change anything? But you do know we will be as successful as we are.

Andrew: I would definitely do it without all the heartache. But if you ask me that 2 or 5 years ago and it would be no. There was at least 2-3 times where I was like I want out. I was sure of it. Now every time I am sure of something I let it ride out.

Nathan: You have to do the kind of work that if you had a normal 9-5 job you would not be willing to do. You’re stuck doing stuff because none of your baristas are willing to do that at there pay. No one really wants to spray and clean out our trash cans. Last week I took them to the car wash and did that because they were so bad. I can’t ask baristas to do that when they are that bad.

Also, you’re on call all the time. Something always happens every week and on the weekends. For the first five years there is no option to get weekends off. All the family toll and marriage toll. If you’re having kids the constant risk of not being present in their childhood. Plus you’re stressed all the time because you’re afraid that you’re going to run out of money. You’re constantly juggling debt so money stays in your bank account and stay afloat. Even if you’re successful the stress that causes is unbelievable. The nights where you’re stressed and cannot sleep then you’re even more tired the next day leading to you snapping at your kids and at everyone you come in contact with. It is horrible, it really is horrible. Unless you’re someone who you know you can’t get away from it. You have to run a business and control a business. I everyday for years and years every other thought in your head is I want to run a business when you see different businesses then ok you have to do it. It’s still going to be a curse and going to suck. Divorce rates and all of that are horrible for entrepreneurs. Even the ones that stick together your relationship is worse because you’ve dedicated your life to it. Things are intense.

I know now that I was one of those people that had to do this. However, even I know that I don’t want to be doing this forever. Certainly I don’t want the business to be in the pressure cooking state it has been for the last decade. I’m super thankful that it was coffee that I got into because I know that it was going to be me opening my own business. Food and taste experiences are like love to me. I respond to it like love. It might be love. I’m still terrified that the kind of business we are running we will never get to the point where it can become us only checking in 10 hours a week. That it will always be something that we will always have to be fully invested in.

People should know for us the almost 10 years down the road and even being an above average volume shop we have done nothing but lost money to today. We will lose money this year. Maybe when we have a second shop we might see profitability. It’s very tough. Financially it makes so much more sense to save money from a salary job and invest in real estate. You will out perform people like us almost all the time. Except for the few of us that get really huge. But you usually have to bring on investors. In coffee and retail in general you don’t make much money compared to getting a salary job and invest in stocks.

You do have to make sure you love what you’re doing and not doing it for financial reasons. Thinking even if I go broke and cannot get a car loan or a car ever again at least I spent those 5-10 years of crazy stress doing something I really love.

Matthew: What was that one cup you always tried to chase? Or God in a cup?

Andrew: When I was 13 years old the manager of the coffee shop I helped out and I took a road trip to San Francisco. We visit some roaster but can’t remember the name. It had to be a Farmer Brothers kind of place and they did a cupping and I remember tasting the Columbia Premo they had and I can still to this day remember exactly how it tasted. I don't have many memories like that but this was one of them.

My second was the Sarah Duel Geisha from Colombia. It tasted like pink lemonade. I never tasted anything like that, ever!

Nathan: I have a bunch but the most recent are 2 cups we currently have and for reasons unknown that I’m still trying to track down, there was a one week period where I had 2 cups of our Ethiopia and a cup of our Burundi... Everything about those coffees was just intensified, floral and juicy and just like mind blowing on both of them. The Burundi is roasted a little darker and even the darker roast profile was bringing out the berry notes in the most amazing juicy vibrant way. I don’t know if that week my palate was just weird or if the stars aligned with how those coffees were roasted and brewed that week and they were just extraordinary but we have not been able to duplicate it where my mouth was like that’s what I was tasting. I’ve been brewing about 50 something batches of those coffees trying to figure out what was going on in there. That’s the most recent thing where I was like whoa! Even score wise I would say those coffees have the highest scores but they were the most recent where I had the most amazing coffee experience. We’ve done some cup of excellent sample events where Columbia and Mexico have changed the way I approach coffee and recalibrated what I called really great coffees.

That were spectacular! But we never really recaptured that full vibracy in our production roast. But when I first tasted that coffee it was incredible. And then also one of my first Ecuador cups we’ve had. This year we’ve had mixed results. There’s a very thin line and then it can get either over or under developed and if it’s not brewed correctly... If it’s underdeveloped and when it’s brewed it tastes vegital and corny so it can get really bad. We’ve had some bad cups of it but then some cups are that sparkly orangyness.


Matthew: What are you guys working on as Rose Park as a brand?

Andrew: I think having a warehouse/roastery/production center, whatever you want to call it, has been a goal for years for lots of reasons and that’s what I’m most excited about right now because of our ability to have so much more control over the 9 different coffees we get to put out. And being able to offer it to other people who are roasting. That is something we wouldn’t be able to survive without being able to roast on another's equipment.

Matthew: Do you guys have plans to open it up to your customers for educational purposes?

Andrew: Yah I’d love to! We plan to get our bearings and then trying to figure that out.

Matthew: I hear you guys are opening up a 2nd shop! Tell me a little about that.

Nathan: Yah that’s the other huge focal point for us right now. We are about 2 months out ideally. That will be an evolution because we are going to do a lot more food there than we are doing in our current spot. What we developed at the 4th street spot was getting our feet wet and we are prepared to have a more extensive menu. We are pretty much doing full kitchen. Oven and all that kind of stuff so it will be a full menu. Great location in Downtown Long Beach.

On the retail side we are trying to figure out how we serve highlight coffees. Just because we want it to be a little more curated. If we keep coffees side by side it's such a more dynamic experience. You think about microbreweries, they are all doing that. We want to start doing that with coffee.

It takes us forever to do products. It doesn’t matter what the product is it just takes us forever always! For like a year and a half we’ve been trying to switch over our website from this infostructure that was horrible and many of our subscribers had to change credit cards on their account. So they had to reorder over and over. So we switched it over to something new. It looks the same. We’ve never done wholesale that well. We do wholesale but we’ve lacked focus and it actually. We are trying to figure out where we want to drive ourselves wholesale wise. Once we get through the transition to the new location, that’s what’s next. We will start to think about and talk about wholesale again. That may not really affect most of our customers. They don’t really see that happening. As a business, wholesale has been something we’ve been bad at. So we have to revisit that.

Matthew: Do you guys have a mission statement for Rose Park?

Nathan: We don’t but we definitely revolve around the Welcome to the Process theme. We talked about it being central to our identity and roasting coffees for our home brewers and certainly valuing what coffee can be in the home experience. Because that’s the cheapest way to drink the best kind of coffee. And also because we are naturally home bodies. That kind of hyper localness is something that we love. Home life is something we value. We are wanting to create value for people in their home life!

And then on the retail side we are revisiting what kind of environment we want to create for people. I think we are already kind of doing that but want to make sure we duplicate it in our new shop and staying true to what people really love about Rose Park. We start with product and esthetic but for the customers to actually come in and use this space has a huge impact on what the space actually feels like.

Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions please comment below.

Rose Park Roasters

3044 E 4th St, Long Beach, CA 90814

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