Meet the Company That Overhauls Your Coffee Program

Imagine you’re designing a restaurant. You pick out tables, chairs, glassware and kitchen equipment. You’ve hired a chef, sommelier, perhaps even a handful of managers. The menu and wine list are ready to go—but what about coffee and tea? 

Michael Klong, founder and CEO of Tradecraft Outfitters, offers an experiential coffee and tea solution service for the hospitality industry. “We provide the same value-add as a traditional distributor that’s similar to craft beer, but layer on service support, equipment, internal training and education to help create an entire experience for the restaurateur or hotel operator.” 

Klong started his Chicago-based company in 2007 with the notion that “craft” tea and coffee will follow the same trajectory as craft beer. “We saw new micro-roasters doing really interesting stuff, and they were popping up almost daily,” Klong states. “There was an area of opportunity in which restaurants, hotels—the hospitality world in general—that needed all of this. But how were they going to get it? Small batch roasters don’t have the same balance sheet that can support the equipment that often comes with a coffee deal. We feel the term ‘craft’ really resonates—there’s such a strong understanding of what craft beer is. People don’t understand what third wave is, but the minute you say craft, everyone understands.” 

The process starts with a series of questions: What does the venue look like? What kind of coffee do you like? How important is it to have something local or organic? Do you want something that is brand recognizable or very niche? What do you want out of your coffee program? After going through the checklist, a selection of roasters and specialty teas are narrowed down. Roasters range from large to small and span the country, including Stumptown in Portland, Oregon, Chicago’s own Dark Matter and Nobletree in New York City. 

Consumer reports are also used to help guide customers to achieve the ultimate experience. For example, cold brew has increased by 340% between 2010 and 2015, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America. And according to the National Coffee Drinking Trend study, coffee consumption has tripled since 2008. 

Tradecraft also strives to exceed customer service expectations by way of an in-house tech team that conducts a site survey to ensure power requirements for specific pieces of equipment, like draught systems or mod bars, are up to par. “We work with the client’s architects and contractors to make sure they’re getting the right machines for their space,” Klong adds.

Past clients have included small independents like Werewolf Coffee Bar in Chicago to larger companies like the Four Seasons hotel group and Google. “We find that [the reason] there’s so much interest in our brand is that we’re a huge value-add for those who are looking to create an overall experience with the millennial mindset,” states Klong. “There’s a transformation happening where it’s more about connecting and experiences with the local demographic and population.”

Though the coffee and tea trajectory may not be as fast as craft beer, Klong believes it will get there in due time; Tradecraft is growing at an exponential rate, opening up offices in Phoenix, Nashville and Los Angeles, where coffee is booming. “It’s an interesting time for sure.” 

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