When Scott and Julie Gondzar started Snowy Elk Coffee Co., they were roasting their beans on private property and selling their coffee beans online, at the farmer’s market and making local deliveries to customers in the Cheyenne area.
Now, after two-and-a-half years in business, they are expanding their operations into a warehouse in east Cheyenne. Their new location will have a small storefront, where customers can buy bags of the craft coffee beans roasted on site, and they will offer roastery tours, home coffee roasting classes in their coffee lab and coffee cuppings – which are similar to a beer or wine tasting.
“We’re really excited because we haven’t been able to share the science of coffee roasting because we haven’t had a public location,” said Julie Gondzar, director of communications and marketing. “It’s really nice to have the ability to bring people in and show them what it is all about. There’s so much that goes into roasting.”
Of course the roasting starts with the coffee beans themselves. Snowy Elk Coffee Co. sources their beans through a Denver-based distributor, and the beans come directly from the farms in places like Peru, Ethiopia and Mount Kilimanjaro.
All the beans they purchase are considered specialty grade coffees, which have to meet rigorous quality control metrics. They make a point to buy beans that are sustainably grown and sourced through fair trade practices.
“You want to have high-quality coffee beans,” Gondzar said. “It makes a big difference in health and flavor.”
Snowy Elk Coffee Co. roasts are the brainchild of Scott Gondzar, who uses his background in microbiology and food science to develop the roast profile for each of the beans they use. He used to work in the craft brewing industry, where he helped to set up brewing labs in Colorado, and that interest in food science lent itself to figuring out the best techniques to tease out the flavors of each individual bean.
“Roasting coffee is a very complex process,” Julie Gondzar said. “You don’t just throw beans in a roaster and call it good. It’s an art to be able to pull out the natural flavors of the bean. The temperature has to be precise. The timing has to be precise.”
In addition to Scott’s knowledge of food science, the Gondzars communicated with other Wyoming coffee roasters as they worked to get their business off the ground.
The original owner of Cody Coffee was very helpful to the couple.
“He showed us the way,” Julie Gondzar said. “We bought his coffee roasters.” She also mentioned Snake River Roasting Company in Jackson Hole as being super supportive, and said Wyoming itself is very friendly to small-business owners.
When they started their business in 2017, they operated under the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, which allowed them to roast their beans on private property, Gondzar said. She said they also worked with the Wyoming District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Wyoming Business Council.
“We really tried to take advantage of the resources we had here,” she said. “We did a ton of marketing research. You have to put a lot of money in up front, and you want to be sure it is going to be worth it. Having a business plan has been 100% key.”
Several of Scott’s roasts are Golden Bean Roaster Competition award winners, including their house blend, which they call BaseCamp. With names like The Angler, Vedauwoo Moon and Campfire, Snowy Elk Coffee Co. strives to share their love of Wyoming, outdoor recreation, and sustainable and healthy living.
“We really wanted our brand to highlight Wyoming adventure,” Gondzar said. “We’re all about encouraging outdoor fun and a healthy lifestyle.”
Gondzar said their company’s emphasis on leading a healthy outdoor lifestyle is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are being pushed to be healthy and pay attention to what matters in life,” she said. One way their company is helping people lead that kind of life is through their nonprofit Snowy Elk Foundation. The foundation focuses on outdoor recreation, music and aviation.
Like many other businesses, Snowy Elk Coffee Co. faced some set-backs with the arrival of COVID-19. Gondzar said their wholesale business took a hit, but is now making a rebound.
“We’ve been able to hold steady,” she said. “We’ve been really lucky, because coffee roasting has been considered an essential operation. It’s an affordable luxury that is something a lot of people can’t go without.”
For more information, or to order coffee, visit snowyelk.com.