For the love of coffee: a new roaster coming to Broad Avenue

Yoga led Jimmy Lewis to coffee.

Lewis is launching a wholesale specialty coffee roasting company, Relevant Roasters. But it was his practice of yoga--and his yoga teacher--that led him to the business.

"One of the key teachings was that one's job in life is to identify what it is that one wants to do, and then to do it," he says. "That is, in fact, a path to fulfillment."

Lewis already has retired from two notable careers: first as the owner of natural foods grocer Squash Blossom and second as a commercial real estate broker.

Lewis sold Squash Blossom to Wild Oats Markets in 1997 and then had a run as a real estate broker with Lewis and Rasberry. After finally realizing real estate wasn't a good fit, the 61-year-old Lewis invested much energy and many hours on the meditation cushion to ensure he "had another run in him."

Once he decided he did, he set out to combine his passion for great coffee with his desire to launch a new venture.

Relevant Roasters brings something new to the local java scene. His Loring roaster uses convection heat, as opposed to conduction, which Lewis says makes his beans smoother, brighter and cleaner.

His passion for coffee is trumped by his commitment to sustainability. The beans Relevant Roasters uses are all produced in a way that is either protective of or enhancing to the environment. His roaster will use as little as 20 percent of the energy of a conventional roasting operation. Even his decaf beans use a Swiss water process of decaffeination, not the more standard chemical process.

Perhaps paramount to all of it is the identity of his "local" operation. He is ardent about locally sourced goods and the ability to reduce carbon footprint by shortening delivery distance.

Lewis hasn't inked any deals yet (his roaster won't arrive until the end of August) but hopes to sell to specialty food stores like Miss Cordelia's, High Point Grocery, Whole Foods and The Fresh Market. He plans to partner with restaurants and retailers as well.

Choosing a spot for Relevant Roasters--at 584 Tillman in the Broad Avenue Arts District--was mainly about convenience. The 2,480-square-foot space is configured well for him, it's one mile from his house and it's a comfortable location.

"The fact that Broad Avenue has as much energy as it does is just a bonus," he says.

And while he won't bill Relevant Roasters as a retail location, he won't turn down walk-ins, either: "It's fine if 300 or 400 people a day want to come buy a bag of coffee. I’ll be here for them."

By Jane A. Donahoe
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