Tucked away in the woods of South Whidbey, truckloads of coffee beans are roasting and business is brewing.
They’re destined for caffeine fiends on Whidbey — and hundreds of coffee shops throughout Asia.
Mukilteo Coffee Roasters, on South Whidbey, struck a deal with Hong Kong-based Pacific Coffee Co., which sees whole beans shipped across the Pacific.
“They’re going to double our business as a result of them recently coming with us to Costa Rica to see one of the farms we buy our beans from,” said Gary Smith, who owns Mukilteo Coffee Roasters with his wife, Beth. “They won’t buy our beans all at once, but a deal is in place that’ll see orders greatly increase as they open new cafés across Asia.”
“We’re ready for anything they throw at us,” Gary Smith said.
Where they once had one roaster, now the Smiths have three, with a fourth coming soon.
There are two barns next to the café that house the roasting facility. Inside, workers can be found daily roasting, packaging and sampling new beans. Coffee bags are piled high. The barns can’t fit all the product, so a plane hanger behind the facility is utilized as a storage unit.
Gary Smith says he plans to build two more storage units and a 25,000-square-foot building.
The café is also expanding. A new barn is nearing completion behind the restaurant will include space for live music.
“We could easily grow another 60 percent and be fine,” Beth Smith said. “As long as we can still be hands-on with the coffee, we’re willing to grow.”
Mukilteo Coffee Roasters’ began by Gary in 1983 with a coffee stand at the Mukilteo ferry terminal.
He established relationships with other Seattle roasters, including his wife, and Seattle’s Best Coffee founder, Jim Stewart.
Mukilteo Coffee Roasters became a brewing ground for some of the area’s best roasters, including Dan Ollis, owner of Whidbey Coffee, and Mike Donohoe, owner of Honeymoon Bay Coffee Roasters. Despite being competitors, Gary Smith said the three of them are friends.
“If you’re a lone wolf, that’s how it’ll stay,” Smith said.
Gary Smith says Pacific Coffee Co. is a big player in the growing coffee scene in Asia. The company expanded to mainland China, Malaysia, Singapore and Cyprus. The relationship the Smiths have with the company goes back to Gary Smith’s early days as the owner of the coffee stand in Mukilteo.
The deal with Pacific Coffee Co., and subsequent growth, allowed the Smiths to take some business gambles.
Gary said the Café in the Woods doesn’t pay the bills, but he wanted to build a meeting place for locals to enjoy a cup of joe.
The influx of cash from Hong Kong allows the company to pay its large staff a decent wage, evidenced by low employee turnover at the roasting facility, Gary said.
The Smiths said they also take employees on overseas trips to coffee farms, from Costa Rica to Sumatra, for educational purposes.
“I’m a two-time cancer survivor, so I’m not after the almighty dollar at this point,” Gary Smith said. “But what we do means we get better qualified employees who are passionate about what they do, and we give them artistic freedom with their work.”