Imagine what a 30-second Super Bowl commercial could do for a tiny coffee company.
Death Wish Coffee of Round Lake just might find out.
The nine-employee business is one of 10 finalists in Intuit QuickBooks’ Small Business Big Game competition; the winner will be featured in an expenses-paid commercial that will be seen by millions during the big game in February.
The company, which opened in 2012, was chosen as a contest finalist from more than 15,000 applicants.
To vote for Death Wish Coffee in Intuit QuickBooks’ Small Business Big Game competition, visit www.smallbusinessbiggame.com.
Owner Michael Brown went into the coffee business without a drop of experience. His first real job was as an accountant for New York state. He said he used coffee as a way to get through the tedious days. After two years, he quit and spent a year pondering his future.
“I decided it would be kinda neat to own a coffee shop, so I just kinda went for it,” the 34-year-old said Monday during a tour of his 4,500-square-foot warehouse and production space, where the smell of roasting coffee hung heavy in the air.
Brown opened Saratoga Coffee Traders in Saratoga Springs in 2008.
“It was failing pretty bad. I was losing tons of money,” he recalled.
Brown sold his house, moved back in with his mom and borrowed money to make payroll. After a few years, the coffee shop finally began to cover its own costs.
Things really began to perk up when he started Death Wish Coffee in the basement of his shop.
Dubbed “The World’s Strongest Coffee,” the potent brew has a secret ingredient that’s really not that much of a secret — robusta beans.
“I tell everyone about it,” Brown admitted.
The bean isn’t commonly used in coffee blends, he said.
“They kind of pulled away from the robusta bean because of its high caffeine content, and actually the flavor isn’t that great, but we blend it with a Peruvian [bean]. It’s a real sweet, excellent bean and they kind of balance each other well and it still has that great kick at the end,” he explained.
Independent testers have found Death Wish Coffee has double the caffeine content of brew sold by Starbucks, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, Brown said.
Brown was able to move his business from the coffee shop basement to Wood Road in Round Lake in July of 2013. He had earned enough cash to move out of his mom’s house at that time, too.
Death Wish sells about 5,000 pounds of coffee a month, mainly online, and has doubled its revenue annually since opening. Brown said he’s on track for a repeat performance this year.
In addition to the Death Wish variety, Brown also sells a lighter roast called Valhalla Java, and Barrel Brand, a line aged in wine and liquor barrels.
‘Apprentice’ drops by
Entrepreneur Bill Rancic dropped in at Death Wish Coffee Monday afternoon, much to Brown’s surprise. Rancic was the 2004 winner of “The Apprentice,” a reality TV show hosted by businessman and presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
Rancic works for QuickBooks and is a spokesman for the Small Business Big Game Contest. He also owns a restaurant group and a wine company.
“I’m rooting for you, buddy. I like this concept. I think it’s something that could really benefit from a national ad,” he told Brown, surveying the space where the coffee is roasted.
Rancic called Death Wish Coffee “Millennial-friendly.”
“I think the millennials are looking for products that are unique and aren’t products their parents are using,” he explained.
Others in the running
Death Wish is up against small businesses from across the country in the contest for the Super Bowl spot. The competition includes a company that makes a solution that can “unshrink” wool garments; one that makes an all-in-one placemat and plate that suctions to the table; one that makes bags and accessories from military surplus materials; and one that makes attire for women who have undergone breast cancer surgery.
Also in the running is a cookie company, a fitness studio, a five-and-dime store, a company that makes shorts for men, and one that has created a storage system to keep food fresh for an extended time period.
Finalists will be flown to San Jose, California, in early November for the announcement of the winner.
“I’m super motivated. I really feel we have a great chance of winning,” Brown said.
“People like the American dream, and they want to know that the American dream is still alive and well,” he said. “And here’s a guy who left his job and he didn’t come from a trust fund family. That’s what people want to see.”