Making coffee count, at the Mount Currie Coffee Company
Before November 2007, when the Mount Currie Coffee Company opened its doors, Pemberton was a kind of Siberia for coffee-purists, an isolated wilderness far far from anywhere. But when the much anticipated cafe opened it doors, that all changed. The Pemberton coffeehouse scene started happening. Owner Chris Ankeny, a photographer and snowboard pro formerly of Bozeman, Montana, didn’t just bring excellent coffee to Pemberton. He brought what makes real coffeehouse culture something that Italians will raise protests for – an artisan approach to coffee, a commitment to community, a powerful sense of place and an honest connection to quality ingredients. His personal network has also meant that a steady stream of US journalists and pro athletes swing by, shining their spotlight on the happenings of P-ton. He’ll be fuelling riders this weekend at the registration for Slow Food Cycle. One double-punch Tuesday, (one coffee counts for two purchases on your coffee card, awesome!), we tore him away from the panini station, to ask him how it’s all going.
So this fall, your baby business will turn 4. As a new parent, are there parallels between starting a business and having a kid?
Oh yeah, I joke that the business was my first child. There are many parallels for sure, lots of unknowns, lots of learning as you go, and a lot of sleep deprivation! In retrospect, starting the business was more stressful than actually having a child.
You are still Pemberton’s only specialty coffeehouse. What other holes did you aim to fill, when you first opened?
My main goal was to offer the best coffee anyone had ever tasted. I also saw an opportunity to offer quick, quality, and healthy food. There wasn’t much in town that was quality “grab and go” type of food. There was mostly just “sit down” restaurants so it was an obvious choice to offer some good food options as well. I also realized that Pemberton was lacking a place where you could go hang out with a friend or have a casual meeting. Being a photographer in a previous life, I also aimed to have a space where we could display artwork on an ongoing basis.
What was your aim, when you launched this business?
I really just created the cafe that I wish had already been in Pemberton when I moved here. I really missed having somewhere to go with great coffee and delicious, quick food. Somewhere where you could go hang out without feeling obtrusive. I am really happy with the way the first four years have gone. It was a huge gamble and luckily my hunch was right… That being said, we are always trying to make the business and our products better, trying to always progress and not stagnate.
If you could write a letter to your start-up self and send it back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
Be ready to work hard and learn the hard way. Do a lot of nice things for your wife because you owe her a lot of your success!
How important is good coffee in life?
Well, it’s my life… If you drink coffee, you may as well be drinking really good coffee. Living in Pemberton, many of us realize the value of sustainable farm practices but a lot of people may not translate that into their daily cup of coffee. Our Roaster, 49th Parallel, is constantly going to great lengths to source the best coffee in the world, mostly from small family run estates. They are pushing the envelope with direct trade relationships which essentially cuts out the middle man and gives more profit straight to the farmers. It gives the farmers much more motivation to grow the best coffee possible because they know they will be able to ask a higher price for it. There is a transformation happening in the coffee world. Fair Trade is yesterday, now its all about Direct Trade. It is exciting to see that people are becoming more conscious of what they consume and see the value in drinking good coffee.
Tell me about what makes Mt Currie Coffee Co’s coffee so good?
We owe some of the credit to our roaster, 49th Parallel. They are quickly becoming known as one of the top micro-roasters in North America. They are constantly sourcing the best and freshest coffee and working to perfect the roast to bring out the unique character of each coffee. They work with us and custom-roast our espresso so that it’s unique to us and can only be found at our cafe. We filter all the crap that is added to the Pemberton water so that its back to the state that it was when it came out of the mountains. We train our baristas, maybe excessively, so that we have consistency. Having good equipment, using fresh coffee, and grinding per order is key.
What is the longest period of time that you personally have gone without coffee?
Never found a reason to try…
MCCC has been a great supporter of local groups, as well as global micropreneurs through a Kiva account. Why is it important to contribute in the ways you do?
We just feel that it’s our responsibility to give back to the community that keeps us alive. We try to help as much as financially possible to support local events and organizations. It’s all a balance of giving and receiving I feel, it’s karma. The Kiva loan project was spearheaded by my manager, Max Silverson. It has turned out to be a really cool way to give back on a global level. Its great because its ongoing, the Kiva loans get paid back and then we just loan the money out again and again. It just feels good.
What local produce do you currently feature?
We have used Helmers Organic Potatoes since day one. We are using mixed salad greens from Rootdown Organics, Fresh Basil and Veggies from North Arm Farm and Ice Cap Organics, and weekly flower bouquets from Bathtub Gardens.
The same reasons that we all love living here can make it equally hard to run a business. There is a limited population that goes out to eat and drink – we are all hoping for those same folks to come through our doors. It is all about the locals. We feel so lucky that we have had such steady local support from day one. We can’t thank our regulars enough for coming back day after day! We all live here for the same reasons and at the end of the day it is about the amazing lifestyle we have here in Pemberton.
Mt Currie Coffee Co doesn’t just serve coffee. What are your most popular menu items?
It’s crazy, I have been trying to simplify our menu but there are folks that seem to like everything we offer which is awesome. Our breakfast burritos and stud muffins do really well. For Lunch, many of our Paninis kill it. Herb-roasted Chicken Wraps and Ultimate Veggie Hummus Wraps are really popular. All our baked goods are baked in-house so everything is quality – our muffins, cookies, espresso brownies, and peanut butter bars sell like crazy. We just added in locally made Lucia Gelato and that has been great on the warmer summer days! In reality, we sell more food than coffee which I really never set out to do.
Will you guys be taking part in Slow Food Cycle this year? Where can people find you?
Oh yeah, it’s the best event of the year if you ask me. We were offered the chance to set up at Registration this year, so we will see you all bright and early and get you fueled for the journey up the meadows!
If you could describe MCCC in 3 words, what words would you pick?