For this installment of The Roaster Realm series, we take a look behind the roaster at Two Story Coffee, located in Athens, Georgia.
Owned by Matt and Mike Bengochea, Two Story’s mission is to develop a relationship with their customers and serve great coffee while doing so. We enjoyed peeling the layers back and getting to know more about Two Story and hope you do as well.
Tell us about how you got started in the coffee world.
My connection to coffee started in a very utilitarian manner. Before I was in the coffee world I was an Infantry officer in the Marine Corps. My hours, especially on deployments (Iraq and Afghanistan) were not exactly 10 to 5. So when I would get to about hour 15 or 20 or 30 of a mission I would need a pick me up. The best available was instant coffee. However, fires are frowned upon because of the whole security concern thing, so I would put a whole packet in my mouth then take a swig of my canteen and instant coffee. It was seriously horrible but got the job done. I then progressed to slightly better coffee that I could actually brew back on our small base. I liked the coffee and loved the small talk with my fellow grunts. By the time I got back from deployment I was hooked. I continued to grow and experiment with coffee for the next few years while in the Marine Corps. As I was leaving active duty the opportunity to own my own shop with my brother became a reality. Since then, I have just been trying to learn more as I realized just how little I really knew.
How did Two Story get its start?
On November 1, Two Story will turn 5 years old. It was started by Rob and Deandra Bailey as a place that served great coffee coupled with a really special atmosphere. From there it grew to a couple stores as well as a roaster 3 years ago. My brother and I were incredibly blessed to meet the Bailey’s and have the opportunity to take over Two Story a little over a year ago.
Share with us the biggest challenge your business faces?
There are standards to coffee clearly written out and agreed upon. There are plenty of tournaments and competitions out there to determine the best coffees. These are important, but at the end of the day the judge that REALLY matters is the consumer! The consumer has no shortage of options when it comes to coffee in Athens, Ga, there are shops seemingly on every corner. Part of my baristas’ job is to educate the consumer on how we are different. I can see it in the eyes of so many first time customers, they can tell the coffee is different, better than what they are used to but have no idea why. That education link is crucial and part of what we do that others in Athens do not. We know when a customer comes in and wants a mocha macchiato Frappuccino we have a job to do, but in a way that lives on and encourages the customer. We are not the most convenient store, it is hard to find parking, we have no drive through, but that’s fine, I don’t want a drive through. I want to be the place you look forward to coming to, talk with friends, and make new ones. This is the message we have to give the customer and it must be backed up by the BEST coffee they can get anywhere in Athens.
How does connecting the farmer with your customers impact your business?
I have absolutely no idea how to farm. Even if I did you can’t grow coffee in Georgia so the farmer’s Thrive works with are incredible. They put everything into their product and absolutely deserve fair compensation for it. That is what I love about Thrive. They allow a small roaster like Two Story to truly be connected with the farmer and pass that along to the customer. Without them, I would not have the resources. I would simply have to order from some large importer. I could still get good coffee, still have labels for fair trade, organic, etc, but I could not know for sure and definitely not know the farmers. Thrive allows us to connect the farmer with the customer and not just pay it lip service. Two Story is all about connecting. This is one of the many things we can leverage to differentiate from the competition, educate the customer, and continue to grow.
Tell us what sets Two Story apart from other cafes and roasters?
There are some great roasters and coffee shops out there and so much to be learned from them. We start with a great product thanks to Thrive and Aaron (head roaster) does a phenomenal job roasting it. From there we serve it only when it is best, for us we serve between 3-7 days off roast. We grind the beans and manually brew your cup to order. All of this results in a truly great cup of coffee, but other shops have great coffee. What truly sets us apart is our staff and our customers. I cannot transcribe into words how excited I get going to work at Two Story.
Honestly, I do not feel that way just because of the coffee, it is the connections and friends that I make while there. Seeing customers go from strangers to family. For instance, just last week I was working on the bar and a family came in. They had traveled from Canada to see their son who is attending graduate school at UGA. They had a limited time here and the first place their son wanted to take them wasn’t the Arches, downtown, or campus, it was Two Story. I was having a long day and that reminded me why I work so hard. Having great coffee is so vitally important to us, but it is not why we were the first place he took his family visiting from another country. We were the first place they went because we were family!
Share the love…is there someone in the industry that is doing it right?
I have only been to Safehouse once since it reopened. Several of my baristas rave about them. I do not know them personally, but have never heard anything bad even muttered about them. Not just their coffee, but where there heart is and the impact they are making. It is on my wish list to introduce myself and get to know them. I have had led 2 platoons into battle with the Marine Corps and am currently the commanding officer of roughly 160 marines in the reserves. The first thing I tell my Marines when I meet them is that I am smart enough to know that I am not all that bright. I truly believe that and believe I could learn so much from other shops like Safehouse. Also, I love their logo. I also like several of Stumptown’s coffees and admittedly know nothing about a shop called Coffee Slingers in Oklahoma but love their name and website.
What inspires you?
I get inspired by the process. It is never done. The variables always change. You could set up your grinder and your espresso machine and get a beautiful shot that drops perfectly, finishes just shy of 30 seconds, and has everything you were looking for in the sip and the next day that same set up could produce a horrid shot. Every bean has its own ideal taste. Our job is not to make it conform to what we perceive it to be, but simply not to mess up all the work that went into that bean from the farmer. Figure out how to unlock its taste in the roast, in the grind, in the brew. There are some many variables that is what fascinates me and what never gets boring. Aside from that, I truly love the impact it can have on our customers. To see someone come in that maybe had a horrible day, but they are at Two Story now and everything seems better. I hope it does not come across as lip service, but that truly is where my heart is and even more than the coffee what inspires me. But, that is only possible with great coffee.
Thanks Matt and Mike for sharing your story. There is a story behind every coffee as well as with every Roaster. We look forward to sharing a behind the scenes look with a new roaster soon.