For a business like ours that ships coffee to a lot of places, it is important to be centrally located. There are many places we can get to quickly from Missouri.- Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Company, Tricia Zimmer Ferguson
Tricia Zimmer Ferguson’s family has long enjoyed spending time together over a great cup of coffee, but when they discovered local coffee shop Kaldi’s in St. Louis, the entrepreneurial family knew they had something special. The family purchased the retail store and small wholesale operation in 2005, and they’ve been brewing up business ever since.
“We were regular customers at Kaldi’s, but we knew the business had so much potential,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “We purchased half of the company in 2005 and the rest just two years later, so it was exciting to start expanding our retail presence and the wholesale part of the business after we became owners.”
Along with her business partners Tyler Zimmer, Tricia’s brother and director of coffee, and Josh Ferguson, her husband and director of operations, Tricia has led Kaldi’s from a hip, local coffee shop to a household name. And as the coffee industry continues to change, Kaldi’s strives to create a unique experience for its customers every time they stop in.
“Most people don’t realize that coffee is an agricultural product so you can’t get the same coffees year-round—that’s why we’re constantly changing our menu,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “We want to keep it fresh and interesting and focus on being one of the best specialty coffee companies in the nation.”
Teaching customers where their coffee comes from and how to get a great experience at home are equally important to Tricia. As they build new shops and remodel existing ones, Kaldi’s stays focused on engaging customers in the brewing process by making baristas—and a variety of brewing equipment—more accessible.
“We want customers to know about our relationships with the farmers who grow our coffee, where it comes from and how we decide to bring it in and roast it at Kaldi’s,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “Coffee is an unfinished product, so there are a lot of variables that can get messed up. Keeping the coffee’s integrity intact and making sure the customers also know how to do that is important, because it allows them to brew a great cup of coffee and tell the story behind it.”
For Tricia, the Kaldi’s experience is based on three things: the quality of the coffee, the atmosphere of the cafes, and customer service. “We’re always thinking about what we can do to go above and beyond,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “It is important to keep working on the experience and make it genuine.”
Running the business
Since 2005, Kaldi’s has grown from its original location to include six branded stores in St. Louis and Columbia, and more than 20 licensed coffee bars at universities and grocery stores. The Zimmer family also owns Honolulu Coffee, with eight retail stores in Hawaii, as well as a 75-acre coffee farm in Kona.
As Kaldi’s grows, the company focuses on defining its culture and talking about values. “We have a set of values that we try to talk about on a daily basis,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “We want all our employees to embrace those values and become part of our culture.”
And it is a culture that encourages creativity among Kaldi’s 200 employees. “If someone has an idea for a new drink, we let them try it,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “It is exciting for them to be part of the process of creating something. We encourage our employees to be passionate about what they are doing and want them to know they have had an impact on our business.”
Even as the business evolves, Kaldi’s is finding new ways to maintain the focus on the core product—quality coffee. Several years ago, the company started a program called Kaldi’s relationship coffee that is similar to fair trade. Through the program, Tyler and Josh travel to coffee farms around the world to build relationships with farmers.
“We’re passionate about making sure the coffees we buy contribute to our sustainable business model,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “We have taken fair trade a step further and rewarded farmers with a higher price for better quality coffee.”
Living & working in Missouri
As Kaldi’s continues to build its brand, Tricia wants to share her experience with other entrepreneurs in hopes of bringing them to Missouri to build successful businesses. “It is exciting because this area is only going to get better as it becomes more competitive and more interesting,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “I hope people realize they can stay in St. Louis and have all the opportunities they would have in any other U.S. city.”
Tricia credits the vibrant arts, variety of restaurants and sense of community for making St. Louis a great place to live and work. “Many communities make up St. Louis so there is a little bit of something for everyone,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “It is similar to what makes a coffee house successful—it’s about having a diverse community with something for everyone—
St. Louis does a great job of that.”
As a lifelong Missourian, Tricia feels that Kaldi’s is deeply rooted in the state. “Missouri has always played a big part in our lives and our business, and we want to make it a better place. Part of the appeal of the state is Missouri’s central location and easy access to shipping and transportation. “For a business like ours that ships coffee to a lot of places, it is important to be centrally located,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “There are many places we can get to quickly.”
As an entrepreneur, Tricia feels committed to making Missouri better. “I think it is up to entrepreneurs and business leaders to make Missouri the best it can be,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “The state has a lot to offer and I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”
The future of Kaldi’s
With a recent expansion in the Kansas City area and a booming wholesale operation, Kaldi’s is committed to being in the coffee business long term. Tricia hopes to focus on growing the brand regionally throughout the Midwest—opening more retail stores in new cities and even finding new places to roast coffee.
“We want to bring specialty coffee to places where people haven’t experienced it,” says Zimmer Ferguson.
And as the company grows, Tricia plans to stay grounded and focus on those important values. “We’re not performing brain surgery—it is just fun,” says Zimmer Ferguson. “You meet so many people through coffee. There are always new customers and employees coming in, and we want them to experience a welcoming environment.”