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Levi Rogers: Building a Coffee Business from the Grounds Up
By Josh McFadden
January 5, 2015
Not long after moving to Salt Lake City from Portland, Ore., Levi Rogers fired up the barbecue grill in his backyard and cooked up quite a sensation. But Rogers wasn’t grilling up steak or ribs—he was roasting coffee beans. Before long, Rogers’ home-roasted and brewed delight was available to family and friends straight from his backyard.
Now, four years later, Rogers’ modest home setup has evolved into the popular, thriving brand Charming Beard Coffee. “I felt that I had a very solid idea,” he says. “I wasn’t just going to do something and hoped that it worked.”
Rogers and his business partner, Josh Rosenthal, moved into their first roasting facility in 2012. In early 2013, the company relocated to a larger venue, located at 3340 S. 300 West in Salt Lake City. And in late November 2014, the business opened its first customer-facing establishment—La Barba Coffee by Charming Beard, located in downtown Salt Lake City.
Rogers’ coffee journey began in the U.S. coffee capital of Portland. While there, he learned about home roasting—making his early batches from a popcorn popper. He also became entrenched in what he calls “coffee culture” and saw how specialty brewed coffee brought people together. When he arrived in Salt Lake City, he wanted to bring the culture with him.
“I saw a window of opportunity in Salt Lake,” he says. “I’m super excited for what’s happening here. Everything was timed perfectly for this awakening. When you go visit Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, the epicenter is coffee. I wanted to establish this in Salt Lake City.”
Rogers’ growing business has 60 wholesale accounts in Salt Lake, Park City and Provo, in addition to its new shop on 200 South in Salt Lake. Success, though, hasn’t come without tremendous effort and dedication. “This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he says. “It can be taxing to be on 24/7. I’ve worked really hard, especially in the beginning getting everything off the ground.”
Perhaps the most important lesson Rogers learned in the process of taking an idea and turning it into a successful business was surrounding himself with the right people. From the time Rogers set up his home base in Salt Lake and began brewing his special coffee, he enlisted the services of talented, experienced partners to assist him.
First, Rogers teamed up with Tim Walzer, a man skillful in woodwork and metalwork. Walzer built Rogers’ first barbecue drum roaster, from which they were able to launch La Barba Coffee Roasters, Charming Beard’s forerunner. Rogers later partnered with Rosenthal and Rosenthal’s wife, Becky, who have been instrumental in the business side of Rogers’ success. “I knew I couldn’t do the business by myself,” he says.
Rogers is adamant that when a person sets out to start a business, it’s essential to build a strong team of competent individuals. That’s why Charming Beard’s success hasn’t come simply through a good idea or a unique product, says Rogers. “Our greatest competitive advantage is that we are relationship driven,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is mess with someone’s coffee. We want to make their experience great.”
Rogers acknowledges that he still has a long way to go with the business, but his aspirations are high. “I want to become a little more competitive,” he says. “I want to be known as the largest premier specialty coffee provider. I want to put Utah on the map.”