Retirement Just Doesn't Work For Coffee Roaster Tom Sawyer | Business
You've been forgiven if you found yourself sipping a cup of Tom Sawyer Country Coffee and thought it was named after Mark Twain's famous character.
Tom Sawyer started his coffee roasting business in Hangman Valley, just south of Spokane, two years ago when he decided that retirement just wasn't for him.
"It's been kind of slow going because it's just me and my wife," said the 69-year-old businessman.
Sawyer didn't exactly start from scratch. He started with 50 years of experience in the coffee business. As a young man he learned the art of coffee roasting while working in the San Francisco Bay area.
"People don't realize that the amount of coffee and the amount of water is very important," said Sawyer as he carefully weighed coffee grounds.
If you drive along Hangman Valley Road you won't see any large signs advertising the home business. There is a good chance you'll drive right by it unless to are looking for the exact address or happen to see the name on a black mailbox at the end of the driveway.
"It was a battle with neighbors," said Sawyer.
When he began the process of starting the company on his own land, neighbors objected.
"They didn't want us here and they are still that way," said Sawyer.
Sawyer says neighbor complaints to Spokane County led to restrictions as to what he is allowed to do with his business.
"I would love to have groups stop by just to be able to sit down and relax," said Sawyer, referencing the packs of cyclists who use Hangman Valley Road as a training ground. "You don't know how many times I've seen them out there on the road trying to fix a flat tire. They could come in and fix their tires, get out of the sun, use the bathroom. I'd like to be able to do that."
Sawyer says he was disappointed in the reaction he saw from neighbors.
"No one ever came down to ask, 'hey what are you going to do?' We want to be a part of the neighborhood. We aren't here to just turn a profit."
Sawyer is working to make his mark on the entire Spokane neighborhood through his passion for coffee.
"I work with a number of churches and a number of schools. They use the coffee as a fundraiser."
The Liberty High School Spanish class is planning to take a trip to Spain at the end of the school year and it will funded by sales of Tom Sawyer Country Coffee.
Sawyer also works with people who want to start in the coffee business.
"I give them all the recipes and all the training."
He is a master of his craft. In his office, which is part clerical space, part museum, and part coffee brewing command center, Sawyer magically blends coffee drinks that will make you forget you're actually drinking coffee. There is no acidic bite that occurs when coffee hasn't been extracted from the grounds properly.
"The grade of coffee we buy and the way we mix it takes out the bite. The roasting process, everything we do is different than anyone else in Spokane."
Sawyer sees a use for his coffee in just about every corner of life.
"Colleges could be roasting their own coffee. Look at Cougar Gold, it's nationwide."
He's approached several local universities about setting up roasters but the idea hasn't caught on.
"It's a real shame because there isn't a college in the country that doesn't need money. It would be a cash cow but also training, hands on training."
Sawyer is awaiting the arrival of a new printer that will allow him to create private labels for people or organizations.
"Coffee is a great Christmas gift."
People will be able to come to his shop, decide how they want the coffee blended and then personalize the label with just about any picture or design they can imagine.
Sawyer will turn 70 in November and has no plans to slow down in fact, he thinks it's time to expand a little, and hire some help.
"It's just me and my wife right now and we do all the roasting, packaging, everything."
Sawyer invites anyone to stop by and have a great time over a cup of coffee. Tom Sawyer Country Coffee is located at 9226 S. Hangman Valley Road. You may want to call ahead at 509-443-1550 so he knows you're on the way.
Click here for a virtual tour.