VOL. 129 | NO. 158 | Thursday, August 14, 2014
Roast of the Town
By Amos Maki
If you catch Jimmy Lewis these days and get him talking about coffee roasting, chances are he might never stop.
Jimmy Lewis is owner of Relevant Roasters, a specialty wholesale coffee-roasting business he is opening in a 2,480-square-foot space at 584 Tillman St. in the Broad Avenue Arts District.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
After embarking on a personal soul-searching quest to determine just where he should direct his seemingly unbounded energy, Lewis, 61, will soon open Relevant Roasters, a specialty wholesale coffee roasting business in the Broad Avenue Arts District.
Relevant Roasters, which will be housed in a 2,480-square-foot space at 584 Tillman St. Suite 1, at the northeast corner of Broad and Tillman, is clearly a labor of love for Lewis. His passion for the subject drips from every word, like espresso from a machine.
“A good cup of coffee is nice; a great cup of coffee is awesome,” said Lewis. “I hope to capture that curious group of people who want to try something new.”
Relevant Roasters (facebook.com/RelevantRoasters) will feature environmentally sensitive whole bean and ground coffee – a product that is “good for the planet and its inhabitants” as Lewis described it – for sale to specialty grocers and local coffee houses.
“I’m targeting Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Miss Cordelia’s and the like, and hopefully I will find coffee shop partnerships,” Lewis said.
Imported from tropical regions that are warm during day and cold at night, the beans will arrive in 132-pound or 150-pound bags. The beans will then be used for several different levels of roast, including espresso, medium roast, a house blend, a decaffeinated coffee made using the Swiss Water process and single-origin coffees that will rotate.
The beans will be roasted using a convection process rather than the more traditional drum heating process.
“Drum heat is fine, but there’s something different and better, in my opinion, with convection heat,” Lewis said.
Within 24 hours of roasting, the coffee will be brewed so the quality of the roast can be tested.
“In coffee as soon after it is roasted it should be drunk,” said Lewis. “I also intend for my coffee product to be transparent so it will include a roast date.”
Lewis’ passion for coffee was cultivated while he was a natural foods retailer. Lewis created the specialty grocer Squash Blossom, which had locations in East Memphis and Midtown.
Lewis sold Squash Blossom to Wild Oats in 1997, but his interest in good, local java remained as he entered the world of commercial real estate.
Lewis, who partnered with James Rasberry to form the commercial real estate brokerage firm Lewis and Rasberry, now Rasberry CRE, still manages some properties but has exited the brokerage business to focus on coffee roasting.
Lewis’ exit from commercial real estate and entrance to the coffee roasting business came after an extensive period of self-evaluation.
“I was not miserable at work but I wasn’t having a whole lot of fun,” he said. “I decided that it was important to have fulfillment in work so I asked myself what that would look like and went through a series of exercises that had to do with desire. What emerged was I loved the coffee culture, I loved preparing wonderful coffee and I thought the coffee being produced locally could be improved upon.”
The name Relevant Roasters has a couple layers of meaning.
“This was a very relevant decision for me because this is how I’m going to spend a lot of my time in the near future and those decisions ought to be made carefully,” Lewis said. “Secondarily, it is my desire to make my life better and, in turn, make people have better experiences and that’s meaningful, relevant.”
While Relevant Roasters currently does not have plans to open a retail coffee shop at the location, the project is bringing welcome investment to the periphery of the Broad Avenue district, said Pat Brown, co-owner of T Clifton Art Gallery and project director of place-making activities for the Broad Avenue Arts Alliance.
“While he will be wholesaling versus retailing, it’s just exciting to see the renaissance starting to spread beyond the four core blocks of the district,” Brown said. “Anytime someone is making an investment into their property we feel that is very positive and it’s really nice to see those satellite locations start to pick up.”