(Note: Movers & Shakers, which I’ve been writing since its inception in 2011, features recently hired, promoted and otherwise news-making executives, entrepreneurs and business owners each Monday in the Star Tribune’s business section. Here, Movers Extra includes additional insights and wisdom from these smart, accomplished people).
Bill Kirkpatrick once thought his future might be in cranberries. That changed the moment his wife, Lisa, asked a question that stirred his entrepreneurial instincts and led him to pursue his passion for coffee.
The result has worked out well for Kirkpatrick both professionally and at home. He soon will mark 20 years as CEO of Cameron’s Coffee, a growing Minnesota-based regional coffee roaster with national ambitions. Kirkpatrick and his wife, meanwhile, celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary earlier this month.
Kirkpatrick described his plans for Cameron’s future growth when we spoke for my most recent Movers & Shakers feature for the Star Tribune, which you can read here. In this Movers Extra, he explains how he got into the coffee business and more.
In his life before coffee, Kirkpatrick was a category manager for Campbell Soup Co. He had worked for the company 15 years when it announced it would close its Minnesota-Dakota office.
Having proposed just 10 days earlier, he suggested putting off the wedding. Lisa said no, they would be fine.
As he considered his options, she asked him what he wanted to do.
Kirkpatrick said he could try getting a job at Ocean Spray, because he knew some people at the giant cranberry cooperative.
“That’s not what I asked you,” she said. “I asked you, ‘What do you want to do?’ ”
“It stopped me in my tracks,” Kirkpatrick recalled. “What do I want to do? I love coffee. I love travel. I love the food business. I said, ‘If I could be in any business I’d pick, it’d be coffee.’ “
“Then find a way,” she told him.
Wisely, he did.
Kirkpatrick’s first step was running a coffee shop. Driven to share his love of coffee on a larger scale, he invested in Cameron’s Coffee and began leading the company in 1996.
Under his watch, Cameron’s moved into a new headquarters and roasting plant in 2008, introduced its single-serve coffee in 2012 and is looking for space to expand.
Throughout, Kirkpatrick has stood by his mission to “democratize specialty coffee” by offering only specialty grade coffee at affordable prices.
“The reason I’m in the specialty coffee business is because I love specialty coffee,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m from Seattle and I think it’s kind of in your blood when you’re raised in Seattle.”
Here’s more from the interview:
Q: What’s new at Cameron’s?
A: We’re looking at what in the coffee industry is being called third-wave coffee. Coffee consumers are becoming much more knowledgeable. People now know that they like coffee from Kenya or Sumatra but even deeper than that they look at coffees from certain growing regions within those countries or even certain fincas (large farms) within those regions.
We’re trying to answer that with different products through time. As the world changes, growing conditions and availability, that plays a part. We just got done doing a special run of some coffee I found in Costa Rica, fantastic quality coffee. Those are the things we’re looking at.
Q: What does your roasting plant contribute to your products?
A: It’s not just the coffee we buy but our processes in this facility are the best in the industry. We make every decision on three basic premises.
The first is it has to be best practice. It has to produce the best quality coffee in the cup and there’s no exception there at all. We’ll never make an exception there.
The next thing is it has to be green. This is one of the greenest coffee roasting facilities in the world.
The third is it has to be fast and efficient because we have a high-capacity plant. We want to make sure that we can continue to produce more and more coffee out of this plant.
Q: How much do you travel for work?
A: I travel a lot, last year about 40 weeks. Sometimes they’re short trips, sometimes they’re 10, 12 days. The type of travel is different. When somebody tells me they’ve been to Honduras, they mean they’ve been to Roatan (island) and the all-inclusive resorts, where I’ve been up in the mountains staying in hotels that have two-by-fours for beds.
It’s not an easy way to travel but it’s a great way to see how coffee is really made, how the people really live. When I go and meet with the farmers and the miller and I cup coffee with them side by side, it’s a great experience. It’s been fun. Over the last 20 years, I’ve been able to travel around the world.
Q: How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
A: A lot, I do. I used to drink over 20 cups of coffee. Now I’m down to about five or six.
One thing I really enjoy is spending time on the cupping table, which is where our grader analyzes our coffees. I spend as much time as I can there. We cupped yesterday. We cupped about eight different coffees there plus I had my normal consumption. I just try and cut it off by 2 in the afternoon or I don’t sleep.