MadCap’s mad dash to keep pace

MadCap’s mad dash to keep pace

Ryan Knapp demonstrates the new 25-kilogram roaster in the Fulton Street production space. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Last year, MadCap Coffee’s café and roastery on Monroe Center was overflowing with beans.

The internationally known coffee roaster was roasting beans in the basement of the shop and, as demand increased, space was quickly running out.

“We were teetering on the edge of maxing out capacity the past couple of years,” MadCap co-owner Ryan Knapp said. “The basement had its benefits — it was connected to the café, people could watch the process — but we had to carry coffee up and down stairs, and storage was limited.”

When MadCap first opened on Monroe Center in 2008, it roasted approximately 20,000 pounds of green coffee beans annually, sourced from around the globe. Knapp regularly travels to Africa and Central and South America to develop and maintain farmer relations.

As the company’s reputation has grown — it’s been named by several industry publications as one of the best roasters in the nation — its needs for a production space increased, as well. Last year, the shop roasted approximately 100,000 pounds of coffee, 75 percent of which was shipped out of state to coffee shops in Los Angeles, New York City and Portland, Oregon, among others.

MadCap announced in April 2014 it had secured production space at 1041 E. Fulton St. near the intersection of Diamond Avenue. With more space still needed for production, MadCap leased space for the second half of 2014 in Mitten Brewing Co.’s production facility on Leonard Street. Acting as a temporary stepping stone, it gave MadCap time to figure out how to best utilize its facility on Fulton Street while accommodating its natural growth.

“It allowed us to see how to set up the flow of things so that we’re making as few steps as possible,” Knapp said.

A major addition in the Fulton Street production space is a new 25-kilogram roaster, more than double the size of its original 12-kilogram roaster. With the two roasters running side-by-side, MadCap’s capacity is triple what it was. Knapp expects MadCap to finish the year with approximately 150,000 pounds of roasted coffee. Knapp said the first beans roasted in the new roaster likely will be the more popular labels such as Third Coast Espresso and coffee labels and San Sebastian.

A separate room allows a sensory-free environment for “cupping,” which Knapp said is at the root of everything the roaster does, taste-testing small amounts of its coffees to evaluate flavors and aromas. The MadCap team cups each of the 150 to 200 batches roasted each week to ensure quality and record progress, as well as nearly 3,000 samples a year that could end up as future coffees for the company.

Next to that room is a full espresso bar and coffee-brewing station, along with several two-person café tables, to be used for training. Knapp said having a training center allows the company to expedite the training process that takes several months from hiring to retail counter. The training center also allows MadCap to train area coffee shop and restaurant customers who purchase and brew its coffee.

“We want to partner alongside them to make sure they’re successful, also,” he said. “That’s one thing about coffee: It’s still an unfinished product. There’s so much impacted on how you brew it, and we want to make sure they’re brewing it as properly as possible.”

Traditional sales isn’t a focus for MadCap; instead, it focuses on making the “most delicious coffee possible” and offering good service to its customers, Knapp said. In turn, its reputation has grown, bringing more customers in asking for its coffee.

“That’s how we started — when we were naive and optimistic,” he said. “But it’s snowballed, and it gives us a chance to hone in on what we’re excited about and focus on making coffees that are the best in the world.”

MadCap’s growth is led by coffee shops on the East and West coasts that use its beans, but Grand Rapids has seen an increase in the demand for a higher-quality product.

Knapp said since the Monroe Center shop opened, at least half a dozen other local shops have opened with a tight focus on brewed coffee and espresso classics.

“It appears they’re all doing well and they all keep growing and we’re getting busier,” he said. “It’s been healthy growth and something we’ve been able to keep up with the quality we care about. The horizon of the industry is interesting, and our goal is to be on the top tier of that.

“That’s been our focus since the beginning: We want our entire lineup to be really exciting coffees that have a global regard.”

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