Grimpeur Bros Speciality Coffee: the Interview
For 2013 Team Sixcycle-RK&O is proud to partner with Grimpeur Bros Speciality Coffee, one of the most exciting brands in cycling today with a presence split between Brooklyn and Austin (with a temporary presence in Louisville during the Cyclocross World Championships in February). Recently Team Sixcycle-RK&O had the opportunity to interview Dan and Nigel, the two masterminds behind this new brand that is taking the cycling scene by storm.
What was the first bike that you fell in love with. Do you know where it is today?
The first bike I fell in love with was my first ever: a 70s gold Huffy with a black banana seat. It was badass and sadly long gone.
The first road bike I swooned for was Lemond's "Z Vetements Enfants" bikes (image)
I get weak knee'd whenever I see a Mapei Colnago (image)
I love my current bikes Scott CR1 Elite and Kona Jake The Snake...but I'm definitely a "n+1" guy so I go gaga for Ritte, Moots, Ind Fab, Speedvagen, Firefly, etc.
The first bike that I fell in love with was a 1980s Mongoose BMX bike with mag wheels. I was a young kid and the first time that I saw it, it literally made my heart skip a beat. It was the same feeling I had as my first crush. I went with my Dad to the bike shop to buy a new bike and he thought it was ridiculously expensive for a bike he thought I'd probably outgrow quickly.
He didn't understand the quality difference, so I ended up with a department store Huffy bmx bike from Gold Circle, which was the 1980's version of Target, in Ohio, just not as hip. Oh, how my heart ached for that Mongoose! I’ve had “true love” moments with many a bike after that, but that Mongoose was my first. Currently I am in a 16 year marriage with my custom built Walter Croll mountain bike and 2 year marriage with my Scott Addict R1 road bike.
How long have you been a coffee aficionado and what was your education process like with coffee.
I've been drinking coffee since I was a kid...Latin family. Growing up in the Midwest, when we came across bricks of Cafe Bustello or Cafe Pilon, it was like we found gold. Traveling in Europe as an undergrad really opened my eyes as to what great coffee could be. Belgium, France, Spain - all great cycling countries and all great coffee countries.
For the longest time, I'd come back from Europe and seek out a great espresso, cafe con leche, or macchiato experiences and end up being disappointed. Even in NYC for the longest time, it was serious burnt indie brand coffees (you know who you are) or the evil Mermaid. My best NYC espresso experiences for the longest time were watching the World Cup with my half-Italian brother-in-law. He brewed stove-top Napoli-style.
But I was always seeking out better espressos and cups. My coffee game really got stepped up after meeting Nigel. He hacks all his machines (home roaster, grinder, espresso machine). I remember a particular revelatory "Ah ha!" espresso he pulled for me at home after a ride. It was sweet and chocolately. The beans we're perfectly roasted. It was glorious and probably got the ball rolling for Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee subconsciously.
I started drinking coffee in elementary school when I'd steal sips of my parents instant coffee loaded with milk and sugar. It made me feel like a “man” to sneak sips of their coffee – I was just lacking the cigar. I started drinking it for its utilitarian purposes when I started college and needed the caffeine boost to stay up late. At the time is was just terrible diner coffee that I'd load up with milk and sugar.
Fast Forward a decade and I’m really into food and what I thought was great “gourmet coffee”. Then in 2004, I came across the coffeegeek.com website and realized that I my coffee knowledge had purely been based off of “coffee myths” that the marketing machine of a large coffee retailer had been perpetuating. I got into the specialty movement and purchased my own home roaster so I could roast my coffee and have it fresh. A coffee Renaissance was happening in America and I was really enjoying it, so I read everything I could get my hands on about coffee, geeked out on home roasting and bought an espresso machine and began my quest for the perfect cup.
I had moved from New York to Indiana at the time and Intelligentsia was the closest specialty coffee roaster to me, so they were a HUGE influence as well as Mark Prince who runs coffeegeek.com. When I moved back to New York, Intelligentsia had opened a coffee lab in Soho, so I took a lot of courses there and learned to cup, home brew and pair coffee with food.
How did you guys initially meet and when did you guys start thinking about building a business together?
We met because our daughters were in the same kindergarten class and we hopped on the MTA bus at the same stop everyday in Brooklyn. It was like "I like coffee." "Me too." "Let's grab a cup at Grumpy." I think I mentioned I rode a lot and Nigel said he raced in college and managed bike shops afterwards. One Sunday I invited him for coffee and laps in Prospect Park. He showed up with his green Croll MTB with road slicks and he was quick.
Then we started riding more, we upgraded our rides and he started to push racing CRCA and Kissena. I was game so we started putting on winter base miles in Prospect Park and 9W rides. It was cold and dark on those early weekday mornings laps and you had to talk about something. We talked cycling and coffee...all the time. We'd meet on the bus and continue conversation from morning laps while dropping off our kids at school and then stopping for coffee in Brooklyn.
Fast forward to spring 2012. My family had moved to Austin. I was attending SXSWi and it kept nagging me that we were missing the boat if we didn't start a coffee business together. I kept bugging Nigel with annoying phone calls. Over and over again. I can't remember what convinced him but here we are. Grimpeur Bros. is +6 months old and on it's way.
Dan pretty much sums it up. We met at the bus stop to take our kids to school. I had met Dan’s wife, Maggie, first and we’d chat as the kids would hang out on the way to school. Then one day, Dan shows up to take the kids to school and he doesn’t know me from Adam, and at the time, I didn’t think he looked friendly, so the kids just kinda hung out and we were two random doods at the bus stop taking the kids to school. We started chatting and discovered that we had a lot of similar interest from cycling to coffee to working in the advertising industry.
When we’d go for rides, I’d get all geeky and show Dan my “home coffee lab” and brew coffee before the ride. Fast forward to 2012 and Dan kept bugging me that we should start our own business. I blew it off at first, because I thought it would be too big of a leap to move from home coffee geek to starting a specialty coffee company. After a few more pokes from Dan, I decided why not, let’s start something and see what happens.
When and how did you decide that Grimpeur Bros would be built in part around cycling and the cycling community?
From the beginning, straight away. It's who we are. Coffee and cycling are what we're passionate about besides our families. We're not noted coffee "experts" although we're not noobs. We're certainly not the strongest racers/cyclists ever either. But we are massive FANS and geeks and we love to do both.
Life's too short not to be on your bike riding and racing. And life's too short to drink crap coffee. Grimpeur Bros. is our labor of love.
From the beginning. That’s our passion and differentiator. We are a true specialty coffee company and we have merged cycling and specialty coffee. Some other companies that have touched this space haven’t approached it from the specialty coffee angle and that’s what makes us unique. All of our coffee is sold roast to order so it’s fresh. It’s gone through Q-grader cupping and must receive a minimum cupping grade of 85. We don’t dark roast our beans – we want you to taste the sweetness and uniqueness of each varietal we sell. It’s great to combine great coffee with cycling. It goes together well.
What's your favorite aspect of the cycling community?
The people. They’ve just been brilliant and supportive.
When we started off, no one knew us from Adam. We're getting noticed but we have a long way to go. I think Grimpeur Bros. has intrigued the cycling community because we are real and our coffee is very good. We aren't poseurs. We're transparent. We're out their racing and riding.
We serve coffee at races when we can. We sponsor club teams. We promote our teams' brands via social media and events. We support local bike shops.We do cool things like our Grimpeur Bros. Pop-up Coffee Shop at Louisville 2013. The people that came and vibe created was mind-blowing. You guys were there – you saw it first hand. It was amazing. Yes our coffee kicks ass. But it was the people who came that made it. Those are our supporters.
The people. As Dan mentioned, they’ve been really supportive and the cycling community is like family. From the racing perspective, it’s great to show up at races and see your friends there each weekend and hang out after the race and catch up with each other. It’s all about the people and always will be.
Where there any cycling companies / brands that you looked to for inspiration in building Grimpeur Bros?
There are a bunch. Rothera Cycling was an early inspiration for the direct to consumer e-commerce approach. Plus Gary's gear is just amazing. Vulpine.cc is another inspiration.
Gage+DeSoto's sensibility plus the experiences and products Mike Spriggs executes are fantastic. MadAlchemy was an entrepreneurial inspiration.
Rapha was a big influence for me in terms of the quality of their products, brand positioning, and content marketing campaigns. When we we're building our site, I wanted to have a blog roll at the bottom of every page listing all the people that inspire us.
People like Cycleboredom.com, AllHailTheBlackMarket.com, TenSpeedHero.com, etc. Now you can add the peeps on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook that support us. Nigel rightly nixed my bad idea as he's the designer. So Nigel, can I build a single page now? Heh.
I think that Dan summed it up well. Rapha was huge. Pretty much any company that was making quality gear so cyclists can get out there and do what they love.
Where do you see Grimpeur Bros as a company and a brand 10 years from now?
Utter and complete world dominance. Seriously, 10 years seems like a million years from now. We have definite ideas where we'll be three years from now but I don't want to say. It's sensitive business plan stuff. We've got dreams but it's all so early.
10 years from now? I see ourselves visiting farms in South or Central America forging direct relationships with farmers. I see a big roasting facility and some concept café’s that have a cycling focus.
Best and worst aspect of running an up and coming coffee company?
It's not so much coffee-specific aspect but building a young start-up, that's lean and boot strapped is crazy fun but scary as hell...often at the same time.
The best aspect is just working with coffee.
I love the smell of it, I love brewing it and I love turning people on to our coffee.
The worst aspect is dealing with the myths that have been perpetuated about coffee by large marketing machines. People think great coffee has to be dark roasted. Historically coffee was roasted dark to cover imperfections in the coffee and that holds true somewhat to this day – roast it dark and the roast profile overtakes the unique flavor of the bean.
Getting people to realize that coffee is a food product with a two to three week shelf life before it goes stale is tough. They’ve been taught that it can sit around indefinitely. And getting people to realize that a quality burr grinder is so key to brewing good coffee is tough. I’ve sold friends coffee and 3 months later, they approach me and say “I just finished my old bag and I’m about to start on your stuff…” I’m like, “Ohhhhh, that’s going to be REALLY stale now”. But, that’s all part of it, the education process.
Favorite ride: any location, any discipline?
NYC: 9W/River Road. It's just too perfect and you can build onto the 9W route in sooooo many ways. It's so close to the city and then boom, it's a wooded two lane road along the Hudson. I have TONS of great memories and need to ride it again soon. We had the names 9 Dub and River Road at the very beginning long before Nigel came up with Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee.
AUSTIN: The Barton Creek Greenbelt on my CX bike is fun as hell. On my road bike, I really like climbing in Westlake Hills. It's steep as hell and 10 minutes from our Austin HQ.
I love being on the road and I love the variation and proximity of 9W. My roots are in off-road racing and my favorite rides are in Southern Indiana where it’s very hilly. The ground is clay and the hills roll so it’s super fast and technical. Everything happens at speed and it’s like one big bmx track with nice jumps, steep and sweet hills to descend and power up. Loads of fun!
Favorite cycling race? Again, any location and any discipline.
Single day: Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Stage: Giro & TDF.
TDF – I love it because it’s what cycling is all about.
The camaraderie, competition and suffering. It’s something that cyclists com together to watch over beers, coffee, etc… It’s a fun race to watch and come together around – It has a similar feel to the World Cup.
Favorite cycling product? Perhaps a bike, perhaps a piece of apparel.
Right now, I love Swiftwick socks. The compression support they provide for my achilles tendons have made a big difference in eliminating soreness. Also, MSM Chrodroitin glucosamine tablets are part of my daily vits - Thanks Nigel for the reco!
This is a tough one. There are so many essentials and so many great products. But, like Dan, I get picky about socks. The right length, the right thickness, etc… They can make or break a kit. I really love The Sock Guy’s sock. (http://www.sockguy.com/)
Favorite personality in cycling today (not necessarily a rider)?
Sagan and Vos. Hands down. Sagan's hilarious and goofy on and off the bike. But he backs it up with results on the road. Vos is the best cyclist in the world. Her victory scream at the London Olympics...swoon. http://velonews.competitor.com/files/2012/07/Vos-wins-marquee-631x421.jpg
Seeing Vos race up close at Louisville was just, "Whoa." Sadly there are no climbers that capture my imagination right now. Everyone's sans panache.
Combining alcohol and coffee in the same cup, acceptable?
In those RARE cases when it's executed correctly, yes. But it's rare. When done well, APPROVE. For example: Austin's Jester King Brewery does it right with it's Weasel Rodeo Imperial Oatmeal Stout (Jester King/Mikkeller Collaboration). More here and here.
Life is too short to tell people how they should take their alcohol. If you love it and it rocks your world, then go for it and enjoy and have a great time! I had a great espresso cocktail at Blueprint in Brooklyn. It was a fantastic drink at that moment to start the evening. Coffee and stouts and porters go really well together.