The COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of retail operations to a grinding halt, but at least one Victoria coffee roaster has never been busier.
Kyle Denny — owner, roaster and marketer of Eleven Speed Coffee — hit top gear over the last 12 months, as his small roasting operation found an appreciative market among office workers working from home.
“COVID came in and everyone shut down and I leaned right into being local and offering home delivery,” said Denny, who hails from a long line of Victoria retailers — his great-grandfather Arthur founded Standard Furniture.
The emphasis on small and local seemed to strike a chord with people.
It probably also didn’t hurt that he turned up on a bike.
“I’m a just a local guy on my bike — I throw your bag of coffee in my backpack and drop it off in your mailbox,” said Denny, who developed his taste for coffee working for Starbucks for 15 years after he left the furniture business.
Denny uses his 11-speed road bike for most of his deliveries, which allows him to combine two of his passions, riding and coffee, as he delivers his small-batch-roasted product to homes, offices and a few retail operations around the region.
He said that he rides out to Metchosin and onto the Saanich Peninsula regularly. “It took off from last March and the numbers have been incredible — it’s been hard to keep up the last 12 months.”
That has him thinking about expansion, and there is the flicker of an idea of a fleet of 11-speed corporate bikes zipping all over the region with his coffee in tow.
He expects to find new space for what has been a one-man operation, and has secured space in a large roaster where he can significantly increase capacity over the next few months.
That’s a big jump for a venture he admits was a bit of a flier. He said for the first two years after he started in 2017, he was probably giving away more coffee than he was selling. As late as last January and February, he was wondering if he would keep going.
But that small, slow start — farmer’s markets, giveaways and getting some good word-of-mouth buzz — helped build a base of people looking for his small-batch coffee with unique flavour, from which he was able to grow. And then the pandemic hit and things really took off.
Denny said the coffee itself is very different from what you’ll get from big players.
Because his operation is so small — currently, he can only roast one kilogram of beans at a time — he buys small lots from small farmers around the world. He said often those farmers only produce two sacks of beans and he’ll take the lot.
He describes the brew it makes as light and delicate, the kind of coffee that is best served black, as there’s “so much flavour in it.”
Denny said it’s difficult to predict what will happen after the pandemic, but he feels growth is inevitable.
“It’s my number one thing, I need more capacity,” he said. “I spend a lot of time right now having to turn down business because I just can’t take on any extra roasting. I have a good base of customers and a good base of wholesale and I don’t want to jeopardize what I’ve built up to this point.”
The idea will be to see how far he can take it.
After all, a guy whose company name takes inspiration from the amplifier used by Nigel Tufnel in the mockumentary Spinal Tap — which went to 11, not 10 — is bound to push things a little.