Sometimes it helps to be in Lakeland. Just ask Chris McArthur, the founder of Patriot Coffee Roasters. Somebody who bought his coffee beans at the downtown farmer’s market passed a sample along to a friend who works at Publix Super Markets headquarters. Long story short: That person is the buyer for Publix’ Florida Local program, and Patriot Coffee now has a deal to sell three kinds of its whole beans at 350 Publix stores throughout Florida.
McArthur said he got the call from the Publix buyer when he was in the Dominican Republic on a missions trip for his church, Highland Park of the Nazarene. “I was just floored. I’d been trying to connect with Publix through Catapult (the business incubator sponsored by the Lakeland Economic Development Council) and then I got this call through a random connection.”
The Publix deal prompted McArthur to ramp up production at the building at 1113A Florida Ave. in Dixieland that Patriot shares with Born & Bread Bakehouse.
He hired five new team members, bringing his staffing to nine, and they’re roasting coffee daily in two shifts from 5 a.m. until 1 a.m. He spent $60,000 to upgrade his equipment.
“It’s a big risk, but we’re confident in our product,” McArthur said.
McArthur also adopted new branding and packaging that features the words “Florida Roasted” prominently.
With the new branding and packaging, designed by local artist Elizabeth Hults, “we wanted something that has a wider appeal. We wanted to feel a little more friendly,” McArthur said, describing the previous branding as more masculine. “We went with the craft bag to emphasize the craft nature of the product that’s inside.”
Starting in June, Publix shoppers will be able to buy Patriot’s Ethiopia, Colombia and Peru whole bean coffees in 12-ounce bags for $13.49 to $16.49 each. That’s virtually the same pricing available via the Patriot website.
“There hasn’t been an opportunity for a small-batch, craft coffee roaster to reach the Publix shopper in a substantial way until now,” McArthur said. “Because most people purchase their coffee at the grocery store, Publix customers have been missing out on an elevated coffee experience. We look forward to the opportunity to expand their perception of what quality coffee can be.”
McArthur doesn’t anticipate offering ground coffee at Publix “until I can find a better way to preserve the freshness.”
Initially, Patriot beans will be available at 350 stores that participate in the Florida Local program. In Lakeland, those include the stores at Lake Miriam and Oakbridge. By the end of the year, the coffee is slated to be available in 500 stores, McArthur said.
Typically, the beans will be found on endcaps that feature other Florida-made products.
The biggest surprise about working with the Lakeland-based grocery giant, McArthur said, was that things went smoothly and they didn’t beat him up over pricing. “I feel like they’re invested in helping us be successful.”
McArthur, 36, started roasting beans on his back porch in December 2014 and two months later he was laying the groundwork for a roasting business.
At first, the beans were sold from a stand he built himself at the Lakeland Downtown Curb Market. A Kickstarter campaign that spring raised $16,574 for the business, exceeding a $15,000 goal.
McAtrthur opened the Dixieland roastery in December 2015 in order to produce enough coffee to supply several local businesses, including his own Black & Brew Coffee House and Bistro, which he opened at 205 E. Main St. in 2006.
He now supplies Patriot beans to several other local coffee shops and retailers, including Hillcrest Coffee, Scout & Tag, The Poor Porker, Born & Bread Bakehouse and Prodigal, a coffee cart that offers Patriot coffee at the Saturday downtown market since Patriot no longer has its own cart there.
After Patriot launched, two other commercial coffee roasters set up shop in Lakeland:
- Ethos Roasters, which has a roastery on Lake Beulah and sells organic, fair-trade beans online and at the Saturday downtown curb market.
- Concord Coffee, which roasts its beans at Dixieland Village and sells them both at the Concord Coffee shop in the same plaza and online. It is served locally at Cob & Pen, D’Lucas, and at Brew Hub in a newly announced collaboration on a beer called Matte Black.
Three local coffee roasters. Does that make Lakeland a little mecca of cool beans?