I first met Fire Department Coffee (FDC) CEO Luke Schneider and Vice President Jason Patton back in 2019 when I wrote a story and produced a video on how their company came to be. I don’t think I went more than five minutes without laughing when I was interviewing them. It was refreshing to see that they didn’t take themselves too seriously, however, they definitely took their coffee seriously.
They both appreciated a strong cup of coffee as firefighters. While Luke is now working solely at FDC, Jason is still a full-time firefighter. Their original medium roast was smooth, potent, and also helped fuel many a long day in the newsroom for me (and still does).
So, as I took a long sip of coffee, I thought, hey, why not get a jolt of inspiration and see how Luke, Jason, and FDC were doing?
Emily: The last time I saw you two, FDC moved into a 3,800-square-foot roasting facility in Rockford, and you guys were proud new owners of 60-kilo and 30-kilo roasters. That was in 2019. What about 2022- where are you all at?
Luke: We went from our 800 sq ft strip mall, roasting around the clock for three-months straight, to the 3,800 sq ft roasting facility where we felt like we finally had room to breathe. Less than one-year after moving in, business continued to grow, and we began feeling cramped again. So, we purchased another building that was ten times the size – 38,000 sqft. We now operate out of both facilities and have since purchased another 60-kilo roaster and additional equipment. We are scaling our D2C eCommerce business and are now in over 2,000 grocery stores, projecting to be around 10,000 by the end of 2023.
Emily: The last time I also saw you guys, you did not have this amount of cool swag – what went into the decision to move more into branding? It sets you apart in a fun way.
Jason: Thank you! We want to continue to build that emotional connection not only through family-friendly content that we create, but also by providing high-quality gear so that people can support our mission and represent a brand that not only matches their taste but is also in line with the family values that are ingrained in the Fire Department Coffee brand. Some of our favorite new swag releases include our shirts, mugs, and hats.
Emily: You were just getting into spirit-infused coffee too. What’s that landscape looking like now?
Luke: We started making our proprietary Spirit-Infused Coffee in 2016 – first with bourbon, then rum, and tequila. It quickly became something we are known for, and our customers wanted more of, so we added Irish Whiskey. Then we took it to another level and offered more exciting Spirit-Infused Coffee like Black Cherry Bourbon Infused Coffee. We never saw anything like that, and the response we received from our customers was insane. At first, we couldn’t make enough of it, and we knew that people were looking for an elevated coffee experience, and we were able to offer that to them. Then we released our Spirit Infused Coffee Club, and now we even offer seasonal Spirit Infused Coffee through the Club, such as Pumpkin Rum and Apple Pie Whiskey, and this December, we’ll release a Gingerbread Rum. It’s really fun, and our customers love it.
Emily: Has there been a spirit you guys have tried and just gone – “nope, no thanks.”
Luke: Lol, yes! The fun part about this is we not only taste the coffees, and they go through a strict cupping practice led by our Q-grader and Director of Coffee, but we taste the spirits as well and have tasted some that, let’s say, will not be making the cut. To make great coffee and Spirit-Infused Coffee, you must start with the best ingredients.
Emily: For those at home, what is the process of making that like?
Luke: Our coffee beans are infused with premium spirits before roasting out the alcohol, leaving behind only the familiar aroma and delicious taste of the spirit. We have the process down to a science, and it’s why we believe we will continue to lead in this growing category. Because we created our process, we will not settle for anything less than the best for our customers.
Emily: Tell me about how it’s been expanding your business into the ready-to-drink canned coffee market.
Jason: We wanted to create something that our customers could enjoy whenever, wherever. There has been a massive increase in growth in the coffee market, and ready-to-drink coffee is the hottest trend in coffee right now as more people are beginning to consume coffee throughout the day, not just in the morning. After all, as firefighters with irregular schedules, we have always drank coffee at all times of the day. It helps us stay alert and energized when every moment counts. But now more than ever, we understand that many people have irregular, remote schedules and are working from various spaces, so we wanted to give them the convenience of our delicious coffee in a can too. This is why we lead our ready-to-drink line with the first-of-its-kind non-alcoholic Spirit-Infused Coffee.
Emily: What is something that’s misunderstood about firefighters?
Jason: That we all have six-pack abs and belong on a calendar (laughing).
Emily: What would you guys say is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to coffee and people drinking it?
Luke: When they don’t share! If you’re going to make coffee, make enough for everyone.
Emily: What can we look forward to for FDC in the coming months?
Luke: Look for us at a grocery or convenience store near you. We now have a product locator on our website to help you find us wherever you shop. We are breaking ground on our first Fire Department Coffee Cafe. It will be an experience that pays homage to firefighters and service members and be a place where families can go to get a delicious treat. Where we will continue to honor your satisfaction is guaranteed.
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