Back in 1997, Heidi Johnson and Craig Fulmer met for coffee—their first date, which lasted eight hours—and the rest, as they say, is history. The two married, and eventually landed in Boston where Johnson worked as a physical therapist and Fulmer as a software engineer and financial planner.
Fulmer has always loved coffee. “Craig was the only one in his college dorm that had an espresso machine,” jokes Johnson. Tired of the burnt beans he often encountered, he decided to have a go at roasting them himself. He Googled “home coffee roasters” and a whole new world opened up: people were roasting their own beans in hot air popcorn poppers! After burning through a few of those (technically, you’re not supposed to run the poppers at high temperatures), Johnson gifted her husband with a table top roaster, elevating Fulmer’s coffee roasting game. Soon, Fulmer began perfecting his process, and word got out. “We’d give coffee to our friends…some were hits, some were misses,” Johnson says. “As he practiced more and more, it became more ‘hit’ and people wanted to pay for it.”
When the two moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2012, they had to leave their Boston testers behind. The plan was for Fulmer to continue his financial planning career, but good coffee is serious stuff, and friends and family back east continued to request Craig’s flavorful roasts. When he received an order for 10 bags, the pair decided to delve a bit deeper into the coffee world. “We thought we'd focus on having a web-based store, but quickly realized we needed to scale up,” Johnson says. And so, Rock Canyon Coffee was born.
Fulmer took to the garage (just like how companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon began), with a Diedrich professional roaster, to start the family business. Together, the couple branched out to the Carbondale, Basalt, and Eagle Crest farmers markets, handing out samples of happiness and educating residents about their fledgling enterprise. Soon, orders from hotels, restaurants and other area businesses, like the Aspen Art Museum, started to pour in. In 2015, they outgrew the garage space and relocated the Rock Canyon headquarters to a 750-square-foot warehouse space in the Basalt Industrial Center. That same year, they started selling at the Basalt Whole Foods location (the Frisco location signed on in February of this year).
2015 also brought a third partner to the company, John Farrell was pondering opening an area café; instead the three made such a good team they decided to put their combined energies into growing the business together. They discussed the merger over—what else?—a cup of coffee.
Although the roastery is not open to the public, customers can purchase Rock Canyon Coffee at area Whole Food locations. “We have such a close proximity to Whole Foods that it's easy to keep them stocked with fresh roasted beans,“ Johnson says. Recently, they’ve also added three varietals that can be be purchased in bulk. Fans who can’t visit in person can shop online; several varietals are available exclusively for web customers. And get this: each order comes with a thoughtful extra. “I always try to write a handwritten thank you note for all our orders,” Johnson explains. “Those things are important. I think snail mail is one of our last joys in life, to get something good in the mail from somebody written by hand.” How cool is that?
The company tag line, “Great coffee for great people,” has a dual meaning. Fulmer caramelizes the coffee beans so the natural sugars stay inside—preventing the acidic bite and bitterness that coffee often has—which makes for a great-tasting cup. The other aspect, which permeates every business decision the trio makes, is equally important. “Awesome ideas are constructed over coffee,” Johnson says. “We met the loves of our lives over coffee. How many great ideas are birthed over a cup of coffee? We want our product to inspire collaborations, five-hour brunches, and epic dates. Bringing community together is what really inspires us.”
Coffee roasting is a many-faceted endeavor. “It’s half science, half art,” Fulmer says. “There’s a bit of math involved, there’s a bit of chemistry involved, there’s a bit of physics involved. I really focus on what it smells like and what it sounds like at different stages of time and temperature. Every sack of coffee lying around the roastery has a brilliant cup of coffee in it, and it’s my job to find it.”
A caffeinated cheers to that.
—Davina van Buren