By LISA MONTI
Shawn and Lynn Montella started their Coast Roast coffee business 16 years as a modest venture centered on Shawn’s interest in roasting coffee beans.
“We never had big plans, we were just doing it on the fly, adjusting as we went,” Shawn Montella said. “It just grew on its own.”
Grew it did. In spite of the double knockouts from Hurricane Katrina and the economic recession, things eventually took off for their enterprise.
The flagship coffee shop, Bankhouse Coffee, is a mainstay on busy Jeff Davis Avenue in Long Beach. Coast Roast is one of about 15 vendors in the popular St. Roch Market in New Orleans. Three years ago Montella bought a shop in Ponchatoula, La., and has a joint venture there with the Nona Randazzo’s King Cake Company that features a full bakery. And Coast Roast Coffee & Tea, their newest location and first standalone shop, opened recently in downtown Gulfport. Montella plans to convert an old house behind Bankhouse into offices and a place for customers to gather.
“The growth has been crazy good,” he said.
All four shops are different, based on the demographics. Long Beach is a local favorite, St. Roch is a cool urban spot, Ponchatoula has a slower, easier vibe and Gulfport is in all the traffic, offices and commerce downtown.
Montella’s antique roaster in Long Beach turns out Arabica and other quality beans he buys from the same importers in New Orleans he started out with in 2008.
A fellow coffee roaster in the Kiln community was instrumental in getting Montella started in roasting coffee beans by introducing him to the Westfeldt Brothers suppliers in New Orleans. In the beginning, Montella bought one sack of coffee beans every three weeks or so. “I think they felt sorry for us,” he said.
“We still pick up once or twice a week from the Westfeldt Brothers warehouse in New Orleans, it’s just grown,” Montella said. He now buys 24 or 25 bags totaling 2,500 pounds a week. He roasts 10 to 15 varieties includ-ng beans from Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Sumatra, Kenya, Ethiopia and Honduras.
Island View Casino is Coast Roast’s major account and has been a major boost to the company. “They have been instrumental in helping us grow,” Montella said. “They were the first big company to take us on almost seven years ago.” Coast Roast prepares a special blend for the Gulfport casino’s restaurants and two coffee shops and the casino
Coast Roast also sells wholesale to small coffee shops and retailers. “We have almost 60 accounts at any given time,” he said.
Montella helps new accounts set up their coffee service and gives them recipes to help get them up and running. “What’s really neat is that the ones that stay open make the market grow. I think there’s enough business for all of us.”
Montella said when he started out, the coffee culture on the coast was weak but since then the taste for coffee continues to grow thanks to outsiders moving in or visiting the area. “The coffee market on the Coast has really come around. After Katrina we had people leaving but others were coming in from other areas. Especially in Long Beach, we are supported by the city and we have enough out of town people traveling here on weekends who are looking for coffee shops when they visit.”
To keep all the Coast Roast shops running, Montella’s partner Kevin Pedeaux runs the Louisiana operation, A.J. Neyrey is Montella’s longtime “right-hand man” who helps him in the roasting plant and daughter Brennan Montella oversees the Bankhouse and the new Gulfport shop. “She loves this business and she pushed pretty hard to open in Gulfport. And the city courted us for more than two years,” Montella said.
These days Montella still calls himself a coffee roaster. “I love the roasting aspect of the business and turning the product out. I try to stay in the back and make sure we have good product. We want to be known for our coffee.”
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