GLOVERSVILLE – Kevin Chamberlain, who earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in ceramics from the University of Iowa, has found a new mode of artistic expression —specialty coffee.
He launched Upstate Coffee in Gloversville, roasting coffee beans as a part-time job for a couple of years after moving back to the Capital Region. Now he’s in the coffee business full time, bringing his artistry to the arena of gourmet coffee.
“Being an artist, Upstate Coffee is kind of like my sculpture in a way,” Chamberlain said. “I’m constantly sculpting new things and being able to create new aspects of the business, connecting with different people in the community.”
The roastery got its start in Gloversville’s Mohawk Harvest co-op grocery store. Last year, Chamberlain was able to relocate the business — roaster and all — to its own 1,200-square-foot space at 34 West Fulton St. in Gloversville.
The building is an ideal location because of its loading dock and freight elevator. In addition, the space was already equipped with the systems he needed, including gas lines, conveniently located electrical outlets, good lighting, a floor drain and ventilation through the roof. This is where he roasts his organic-certified and fair-trade beans from Guatemala, Peru, Ethiopia, East Timor, Honduras and Sumatra.
[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”17″ display=”basic_imagebrowser”]Chamberlain’s friend, muralist Tony Carter, who painted two murals at Facebook’s California headquarters, came to Gloversville to create murals in the new space.
Beyond offering single-serve cups and bags of whole-bean coffees online as single orders or through subscriptions, Upstate Coffee sells wholesale to coffee shops, cafes and bakeries. Chamberlain also provides a private-label roasting service with a low minimum order for businesses.
Chamberlain names his light, medium and dark roast coffees largely for upstate lakes, including Lake George, Pleasant, Placid, Sacandaga and Cayuga. His decaf dark roast is aptly named “Sleepy Hollow.” At upstatecoffee.com, when a customer clicks on a coffee to view a flavor profile there is also a list of activities available in that area.
Chamberlain doesn’t take the branding lightly and feels a responsibility to be respectful to the region. He consulted hikers, campers, fishermen, photographers and businesses in the upstate area to ensure that the Upstate Coffee brand had a cohesive focus.
Chamberlain’s most recent work is CBD single-serve cups, which he plans to launch soon with the assistance of a $75,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded by the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corporation.
The grant, which comes through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, afforded him the ability to purchase a K-cup machine that can produce 70 single-serve cups per minute as well as the supplies needed to package the product.
The process of bringing the idea from concept to market has been a long and complex one, made even more difficult by the ever-changing regulations around CBD products. “I have to have the production facility under my control and it has to be certified by the state,” Chamberlain said.
With tight regulations, each CBD single-serve cup will contain a measured dose of full-spectrum CBD, which has only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that produces psychoactive effects.
“You don’t get high,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain added regular single-serve cups to his line of products when the pandemic hit. Inns and Airbnbs had to pivot to single-serve coffee due to health concerns, so he began making them for the hospitality industry. Also, in alignment with his business values of collaboration and community-building, he added a search feature to his website for upstate inns and Airbnbs to help promote those businesses.
COLLABORATION AS A VEHICLE FOR GROWTH
Chamberlain took full advantage of the economic development resources and opportunities available to him. He consulted with the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce when he was contemplating starting the coffee roasting business. He also went to the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth (FCCRG), where staff helped him obtain a $25,000 microenterprise grant to grow his fledgling business.
Chamberlain seeks out collaborative opportunities with other small business owners wherever he can. For example, with Indian Ladder Farms Cidery and Brewery in Altamont, he created a beer called “First Cracked Coffee Cream Ale,” and he made the “Imperial Mocha Stout” with Lake’s George’s Adirondack Brewery. Now, Indian Ladder sells Upstate Coffee in its store. He is also working with Rogers Family Orchard, Stump City Brewing and Higher Ground Distillery in Fulton County to craft beverages that fuse the business’ products. These company owners also share strategies, and Chamberlain values the connection with others to toss around ideas and work out problems.
Still, Chamberlain said one of his biggest challenges is overcoming the constant obstacles that arise.
“It’s inherently very stressful,” he said. “One problem comes up and you’ve got to think about it clearly and fix it and move on. And then the next problem comes and you’ve got to do the same thing. Managing the stress of the changes, and the pivots and the juggling of things, is difficult.”
That said, Chamberlain admits he does find the process fun. “If you didn’t like that stuff and weren’t OK with it, you wouldn’t be able to do it,” he said.
ON THE HORIZON
The collaborations and constant pivoting have paid off as Upstate Coffee grows. Chamberlain was able to hire a part-time employee and he will be a vendor at the Saratoga Farmers Market every weekend this season, with a mobile booth to serve specialty coffees and espresso. He plans to take his mobile operation to events such as fishing tournaments and bike races in other upstate communities. He is also sponsoring a race car that spectators can see at the Fonda Speedway and at other dirt tracks.
After CBD single-serve cups are in full production, in the spirit of community-building, Chamberlain wants to focus his attention on creating a fundraising option for nonprofits from which they could set up fundraising campaigns through Upstate Coffee’s website.
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