Red Rooster Coffee Roasters doesn’t do things by the book. Guided by principles of sustainability and gender equality since 2010, this family-run company takes pride in inclusive hiring practices and making onsite childcare available for all of its employees.
How did you get started roasting?
"My fiancé ran a very small coffee shop above her mother's bookstore. She asked if I would like to learn how to roast coffee in order to improve the quality at her shop. I was enthusiastic, because I was working construction to pay off my student loans from getting an MFA. At the time, I had no idea how far we would go with it."
Why the name Red Rooster?
"Good question. We're from an agricultural community — 15,000 people in the county and 450 in the town. There are many small family farms throughout the county and we wanted to honor that in our name. Besides, roosters are to mornings what coffee is to mornings."
Tell us more about your hometown.
"We're a one stoplight farming town that's known for bluegrass, old-time music, alternative lifestyles, the back-to-land movement, a music festival called Floyd Fest, and being home to a lot of artists and craftspeople. My parents are both ceramicists and my life is full of potters, woodworkers, and musicians — along with organic vegetable farmers."
Tell us about your team.
"We're a family business, so my wife is my partner and all of her sisters work for us. Her youngest sister, Grace, is our accounts manager and won the Brewers Cup qualifier in Nashville last year. Her other sisters are our office manager, bookkeeping assistant, and head baker.
Our head roaster, Tony Greatorex, is extremely talented, as is his wife, Jolie, is our head of marketing and branding. The baristas in our cafe are all super-talented and most of them have been with us for over five years."
How does Red Rooster approach sustainability?
"It's a part of every decision we make. We use compostable coffee bags, all PLA compostable wares in our cafe, and have a robust recycling program. We're building out a composting program as well. Our goal is to reduce plastic at every possible place in the coffee stream — we use GrainPro bags for trash bags in the roasting facility and have started sending them to a recycling plant.
In 2020 we're going to start offering a carbon offset subscription with Project Wren to our employees as a benefit. We believe that climate change is man-made and the only thing that can stop it is conscious human action."
What do you look for when sourcing coffee?
"We look for quality coupled with transparency. We also look for coffees that are connected to social programs, for example we bought livestock for the farmers at the Yandaro washing station in Burundi this year. And we look for coffees where there is work done by exporters or importers on the ground to improve the quality through paying premiums for better picking and better processing."
What excites you most about the third-wave coffee movement?
"Right now I'm excited about the accessibility movement, with less companies focused on super-expensive single origin coffees and more working to reach a larger amount of customers wherever they are in their coffee drinking experience level. The result, I hope, will mean more people drinking specialty, more farmers getting paid higher premiums, and roasters being able to charge the amount of money the coffee is actually worth."
Where do you hope to see Red Rooster in the next five years?
"I hope to expand on the work we're already doing. I'd like to have a coffee shop in a major urban area, DC or Charlotte, and I'd like to be purchasing more direct trade coffee and more coffee that has a social impact on the ground. I'd like to be closer to having a plastic-free roastery and I'd like to be carbon neutral. Ideally, we can also help lead the way to a mid-Atlantic coffee renaissance where 'Virginia coffee' can be shorthand for quality."
Anything else we should know?
— Haden Polseno-Hensley, Co-Founder of Red Rooster Coffee Roasters