Vail Coffee & Tea Co. celebrates 20 years
EAGLE COUNTY – Chris Chantler and Craig Arseneau had a simple, but big, idea – Vail needed better coffee.The partners came to the early realization that people would pay for options to grocery-store coffee and founded the Daily Grind on Bridge Street. Now, after two decades in the business, Vail Coffee & Tea Co. is thriving at its Minturn headquarters. The company roasts its own coffee, and the partners travel the world looking for both beans and tea leaves that will tantalize warm-beverage drinkers.And, in a time when even Starbucks has closed some shops, Vail Coffee & Tea is expanding. The company recently signed a deal with Kroger to sell coffee at King Soopers and City Market stores.Chantler and Arseneau recently took time to answer some e-mailed questions about the past, present and future of their company.Vail Daily: Both of you have spent your lives in the coffee and tea business. What drew you to Vail?Arseneau/Chantler: The mountain lifestyle and business opportunities. Craig is originally from the Chicago area and attended the University of Denver. Chris grew up in the Far East and landed in Wisconsin. Both of us were working in Boston in the hotel industry, watching the early advances in the specialty-coffee industry. Craig left the hotel management world and joined a company called the Coffee Development Group, a nonprofit funded by the International Coffee Organization to promote gourmet coffee throughout the U.S. This was the catalyst that led us into the coffee industry. We knew that we wanted to open espresso bars, and it was a matter of where. Vail became our first choice after a spectacular ski trip. This was then solidified by a trip to Switzerland, where we realized the world travels to Vail, and they would then be drinking our coffee.VD: When you started focusing on roasting and wholesale, how important was it to have “Vail” in the name?A/C: Very important. Vail represents a top-notch mountain experience. People travel to Vail to enjoy the quintessential “Rocky Mountain High,” to quote John Denver. The pure mountain environment and the quality reputation of the Vail Valley typifies our brand. It speaks to who we are – active and athletic, loving the outdoors, providing world-class products and leading the industry in alternative roasting.
VD: Vail Coffee and Tea has had its headquarters in Minturn for nearly 17 years. Have there been temptations to move farther down valley?A/C: Not really. We love our location and we’ve managed to operate efficiently there. We were fortunate to have an opportunity to purchase our facility here in Minturn five years ago and have plenty of space for our roasting operations, packaging, offices, showroom and cupping room. Minturn is very central, giving us close proximity to the entire valley and easy access to Interstate 70 to service the entire state. It would be hard to say, “Roasted in the Rocky Mountains” when we’re not nestled among them.VD: What got you two into the tea business? What do you think the biggest differences are between the tea and coffee businesses?A/C: We both have traveled and have drank amazing teas, mostly teas that were not available to the average consumer in the early 1990s. It was always a shock to be in a fine restaurant, and after being served a spectacular meal, that you were given a selection of dreadful tea bags. We wanted to bring the best in tea to our customers, just as we have done with our coffees. Our goal was to give restaurants the opportunity to make a statement with tea and turn coffeehouses into coffee and tea houses, giving the small coffeehouse operator a way to differentiate their business from their corporate competitors. What many people don’t know is that only 59 percent of the U.S. population actually drinks coffee. That leaves, no pun intended, a huge audience for tea sales. Tea is a very different experience to coffee. Coffee is about revving up, whereas tea is about taking time out to relax, reflect and recharge.
VD: You just signed a marketing and distribution deal with Kroger. How do you plan to fill those larger orders and keep your small-company agility?A/C: Simple – provide more coffee and tea! Over the past five years, we have been slowly growing our company by hiring inspired and talented employees who can rise to every order yet still enjoy the days off that are required (powder days, blue sky days, high river days, etc.). We have also been using “Toyota Lean” philosophy to make our program run smoothly, more manufacturing than running around. We all work hard to keep costs low, keep product quality intact and keep producing more coffee and tea. VD: How many miles did the two of you fly last year?A/C: Our young families and a knee surgery have hampered travel this year, but in the past 24 months, we have been to Taiwan, Japan, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico. Between the two of us, we’ve probably logged around 50,000 miles. With our commitment to build relationships with our farmers, we have plans to visit Colombia, Guatemala and Brazil in the upcoming year and possibly a quick trip to China.