Want a skinny, half-caf, two-pump latte? You might be able to find it at an office near you. Baristas are in demand and cold brew is on tap as the growing love of craft coffee pours into office parks and break rooms everywhere.
It's not just a perk for coffee drinkers—it may be a buzz for employers, too. By providing better coffee, employers are giving their team a reason to stick around and stay alert, and they may be brewing a better business in the process. Here are four businesses that are getting a boost from coffee culture.
Crafting a Better Cup
Jim Carbone cringes a bit when he thinks back to the old days of office coffee. He can still see the brown mess burning in a yellowed glass pot in the corner of a break room. Today, it's his business to avoid that scenario at all costs. Carbone is co-founder of Tradecraft Outfitters, a Chicago-based business with locations throughout the country that partners with craft coffee and tea makers, bringing their products to more than 1,000 offices, hotels, cafes and other businesses. In other words, he and his fellow co-founder, Michael Klong, are helping to improve coffee everywhere.
—Robbie Peck, CEO and co-founder, Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters
Carbone remembers when he began working with a local roaster the first time, a little over 10 years ago. At the time, his business was stocking vending machines and delivering mass-produced packets of coffee to businesses. One day, a client asked if he could order coffee from a well-known local roaster. Aiming to please, Carbone and his team approached the roaster to draw up a deal. “It took a bit to convince them to let us basically take care of their coffee, because they didn't want their quality to be compromised," Carbone recalls. After devising a plan that worked for all parties, Carbone and his partner recognized the potential to bring great coffee to more offices. They began networking with other craft coffee and tea businesses. “Over the years, we kept proving ourselves to other roasters in Chicago, and we've expanded throughout the country," he says. Tradecraft, which now has offices in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Nashville and New York City, brings a better coffee and tea experience to law offices, tech companies, trading firms, restaurants, hotels and other entities.
But it's not just coffee that Tradecraft delivers. A quality cup of coffee demands quality equipment. Tradecraft also offers businesses state-of-the-art brewing equipment, high-end espresso machines, pour-over devices, grinders, kegerators serving cold-brew coffee and even kombucha on tap. A few years ago, the company even began training baristas to go into offices to make specialty beverages. That service became so popular that it's now its own company, Infuse Hospitality, also co-founded by Klong.
Carbone says that his clients all share a similar vision. They want to take care of their staff so that their staff takes care of them. “These employers want to create experiences at work," says Carbone. “If they have good coffee and great amenities, the employee is not going to want to leave. They're going to hang around."
Baristas on Demand
In 2016, when the packaged foods company Conagra Brands moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago from Omaha, its business leaders saw an opportunity to create a sense of community within the office. Their solution: a coffee program. “We wanted to really create an environment that was collaborative, that was passionate, that was innovative, and we felt that a wonderful way to help build all of that and accentuate all of that would be to have a coffee bar," says Jon Harris, senior vice president and chief communications officer with Conagra.
The coffee bar was built by Infuse Hospitality, a Chicago-based business (co-founded by Michael Klong of Tradecraft Outfitters) that creates and operates food and beverage concepts of all shapes and sizes within office buildings, hotels, restaurants, businesses and traditional retail spaces across the country. Infuse Hospitality aims to offer the best in coffee and tea, featuring coffee from more than 35 roasters located around the United States.
At the Conagra coffee bar, staff, clients and visitors can choose from an array of craft coffee and tea brands and beverages prepared by two baristas (employees pay for specialty beverages; drip coffee is also available at no charge); breakfast sandwiches, salads and other food items are also available. Harris says that employees, who number about 550, will hold meetings near the coffee bar or just grab a quick drink to go. It saves time, because they don't have to leave the office, and it's created that sense of community that the company was hoping for. “A company is only as good as the coffee that it serves," says Harris.
Infuse Hospitality operates 32 locations across the country, and has 15 upcoming openings scheduled, says Michael Schultz, co-founder and CEO of Coffee & Tea Bar Holdings LLC, which owns Infuse Hospitality. The food and beverage concepts, which range from mobile coffee and cold-brew carts to roomy cafes, restaurants and bars, are in an array of businesses, including car dealerships, co-working spaces, financial institutions, technology companies and more. Infuse Hospitality oversees the design and build-out of the coffee bars and then hires, trains and employs staff and manages the operation. “Our objective is to partner with [the client] so that they can focus on their core business," says Schultz. Costs can range from about $25,000 to hundreds of thousands, annually. Pricing per cup varies, too, depending on the location: Some offer complimentary drinks for staff, others subsidize the cost for employees while still others run the coffee bar as a retail establishment, charging full price.
The annual cost of the coffee bar, says Schultz, might be minimal if you consider the time lost when your staff leave the office in search of caffeine. Plus, he adds, a coffee bar can attract talented employees and create stronger connections.
“Having an architect come in and change a space isn't enough. We've been able to have an impact by creating these spaces and authentic experiences and it's really assisted in driving the culture of these brands," he says. “So while coffee and tea and food and everything else has been important for thousands of years in creating a sense of community, we're integrating that into the workplace and building cultures."
Tapping the Cold Brew
In the Washington, D.C., area, you can purchase Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters' smooth, Nitro Cold Brew coffee from two coffee shops (Commonwealth Joe and Java Shack) and, in warmer months, from a fleet of tricycles rove around town, doling out java. Or, if you're lucky, you can get it at your office. Commonwealth Joe—which flashes the hashtag #officenitro—delivers by the keg to the capital city, as well as the New York Tri-State area.
Office delivery wasn't in the original coffee business plan for CEO and co-founder Robbie Peck. Rather, he wanted to share good, approachable coffee, roasted by his own mother, with the community. When he launched his cold brew line in 2014, people started asking him, “How can I get this in my office?" They wanted to be able to walk into a break room, pull a tap handle and have cold, stout, velvety coffee tumble into a glass. So Peck coordinated keg deliveries to a local business. Word spread, and his office clients grew. By 2016, he had 30 clients. Now, Commonwealth Joe's Nitro Cold Brew is in nearly 200 offices, including architects, attorneys, public relations agencies, real estate firms and more. Businesses pay for the coffee and the nitro, tap and kegerator are included in the service.
Peck says that he's succeeded, in part, because millennials love good coffee, and they love cold-brew. If they're leaving the office less, it's a win on both sides: employee and employer. “I think people are starting to think about their perks not as a line item on the cost side of their P&L, but as a way to reduce attrition, improve retention, drive in more talent and get more productivity out of your workforce," says Peck. “Happier employees work harder, they work smarter and they stay with you longer."