Candy and Isaac Williams say they are not afraid of competition. It’s a good thing, because they are about to get right into the middle of it.
The wife and husband business team just bought Coffee Slingers Roasters from its founder, Melody Harwell at the end of January.
The specialty coffee shop at 1015 N. Broadway has always had stiff competition.
Just one-third of a mile direct from espresso machine to espresso machine – five blocks walked – sits Elemental Coffee at 815 N. Hudson, also a popular hang-out, coffee shop and roaster.
Both businesses started in 2008 and both evolved their on-premises roasting operations within a few years of their founding.
Those years of competition have established midtown into a place people think of first if they want to get quality coffee roasted on the premises.
“I think competition makes you stay on your toes,” Candy told Free Press. “It makes you strive to do it just a little better.”
“To keep that quality ongoing, you have to have that pressure,” said Isaac. “I think if there was just one shop it would be harder. Now that it’s more and there’s going to be more, then it starts to pique people’s interest.”
They had some advantages in assessing the purchase of the business. Candy is a CPA and has handled the books for Coffee Slingers for the last four years.
She and Isaac together own H&H Bookkeeping, a full service shop that offers Candy’s CPA services and also a payroll management service.
Isaac and Candy have owned Snap Fitness nearby since 2009 where Mike Meadows has been the manager and trainer.
Now, Meadows has been shifted over to Coffee Slingers to handle daily general management. He will team with Kaylee Willand who started as a barista under Harwell and has worked her way into the business side of the operation since.
Isaac was adamant that they have no desire to change anything about the quality or value of the Coffee Slingers products that were carefully developed over the years by Harwell.
In fact, Isaac and Coffee Slingers roaster Ian Fleming just returned from a nine-day trip to the farm in Guatemala where their beans are grown. Harwell was the one who established that relationship.
She also trained Fleming over a period of time in the science and art of roasting. Now he is a key element of the business as it moves forward.
“Ian is the most passionate person you will ever meet when it comes to roasting,” said Isaac. “He has passion that’s contagious.”
The connection to Guatemala gives the company vertical integration from farm-to-table. The relationship also helps them to control quality and ground the company in the source of its product.
Isaac is eager to push the company forward with the strong resources it already has. One of the ways he wants to do that is to better tell the story of the company’s commitment to quality.
After the trip with Fleming to Guatemala he came back much clearer about the value of that long-distance relationship.
“Until you go there you don’t understand what the process is all about,” said Isaac. “I think we’re missing the boat here in that we’re not telling our customer what that relationship is like and why that’s important.”
Free Press asked about their goals and where they want to be in the business a year from now. Isaac gave five major goals:
- Better knowledge of the coffee industry,
- More wholesale accounts functioning,
- Catering events established,
- Mobile unit fully functioning to bring their product to events,
- Begin background work on establishing a second location.
Both said they were impressed with all of the employees describing them as a “phenomenal group of people.” They don’t want to make any changes to their staff except to add to them and use their expertise for training the new employees as the business expands.
Both have been in business together most of their 17 years of marriage and don’t seem to be able to imagine being business partners with anyone else except each other.
“She’s my best friend and I couldn’t imagine anything else,” said Isaac. “Working together every day on something that we love and new adventures, you can’t ask for anything better.”
Candy said their 11-year-old son is eager to learn the roasting operation. “In fact, he’s been disappointed that school has kept him from learning the process.”
Coffee Slingers founder Melody Harwell sat down with Free Press a few days before to discuss her development of the company up to selling it to the Williams.
What brought her to the 2008 opening was spending her teenage years as a barista in Oregon near Portland. “It was a deep coffee culture out there and it’s what many teenagers had for a first job,” said Harwell. “Sort of like McDonald’s today for teenagers looking for that first job.”
She then spent time living in Hawaii owning and running a coffee shop there. It was in Hawaii that she learned about coffee farms and farming which served her later when she wanted to get a direct source for her roasting operation.
When she moved to Oklahoma City she worked as a barista at Will’s, now called the Lobby Bar and Cafe, in the Will Roger’s Theater at 4322 N. Western.
“I just saw that the community was interested in it. And I saw that at Will’s,” Harwell said about her belief that Oklahoma City was ready for more quality coffee.
She rode a bike for transportation to and from work and frequented the Bicycle Alley shop just down the block from the building Coffee Slingers is located. While hanging out there she got to know one of the owners and founder of the company, Terry Enos. It’s also where she met Steve Mason, an avid cyclist and already getting known for transforming broken-down buildings into attractive business locations.
“I started this by myself with financial support from my angel investor, Steve Mason,” said Harwell. “He liked my idea of starting the shop.” Other friends jumped in and helped her open in March 2008.
Mason got Enos to move Bicycle Alley in across the hall to get the building off to a good start.
Bicycle Alley is now closed and another business has moved in across the hall.
She identified two surprises that required adjustment. One was how transient her workforce could be sometimes. She said she had to become a better trainer because of the turnover, which was hard at first, but paid off eventually in her ability to better develop the strong staff that are at the company now.
“If you can’t teach somebody else what you know, you’re not growing,” said Harwell.
The other big adjustment was how development on Automobile Alley did not take off as many in the city predicted when redevelopment first started. It suppressed the growth of Coffee Slingers and pushed back her investment in a roaster two more years from what she originally projected.
A positive development was the addition of a stronger Sunday business when Frontline Church moved from a small storefront a few blocks south to their current location at NW 10th and N. Robinson, basically across a parking lot from Coffee Slingers’ back door.
Essentially, Coffee Slingers became the de facto coffee shop for the church.
“They made Sunday worth opening for. And now it’s diverse,” she said, pointing out that the added church members drew even more people to Coffee Slingers on Sundays.
Currently she is refurbishing an RV so that she can be close to self-sufficient for a while and “see America.”
Harwell was relaxed and seemed satisfied with what she had done with the shop since 2008.
“I’m just glad I got to be a part of something that made people happy and got to be a part of the growing of this city,” Harwell said.
“That’s more rewarding than any of it. I feel like that’s truly what I do. This place will be here 10 years from now.”