Stumptown Hasn’t Sold Out

06.02

After days of rampant internet speculation regarding Stumptowns ownership, a reputable publication did some real journalism to finally uncover some answers. Rumors began after the owner of an east coast coffee roaster, irresponsibly claimed that Stumptown’s owner Duane Sorenson had “sold his life’s work to the highest bidder,” in an “article” for Escquire.com.

Oliver Strand waded through the hysteria, and spoke with Duane to learn more.

“I still own Stumptown,” Mr. Sorenson said in a telephone interview. “I’m still in control of Stumptown, the only thing that’s changed is that I brought in an investor, a buddy of mine, who brought in some money so that I can do the things I want to do.” -NYTimes

While this may not appease all of the doubters calling him a sell-out, there are also people who will never believe President Obama was born in the US. Considering the state of the economy and the costs required to scale from a regional business to a national one, I completely understand the need for investment capital. While they aren’t disclosing the structure of the investment, there’s currently no reason not to take Duane at his word. There seems to be a lot on the horizon for Stumptown, and if they continue supporting farmers and selling great coffee, we should be thanking Alexander Panos and TSG Partners.

[Stumptown] plans to open two coffee bars in Brooklyn, add a bottling facility to its roaster in Red Hook for its cold-brewed coffee and, Duane Sorenson, Stumptown’s founder, says the company will try to open roasters in Chicago and San Francisco. -NYTimes

Read the full article at the New York Times Diner’s Journal. An updated article with some new and developing information has also been published.

[Photo by Todd Stadler]

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posted by on 06.02.2011, under Misc., Recommended Roasters

comment

There’s no doubt in my mind that this was done with the best of intentions, with the idea to expand on what Stumptown was already doing and to do it more, and to do it better.

The fears come from the idea that Stumptown, (and thus Duane) would be beholden to stockholders and investors rather than the company’s stated vision and mission. If Stumptown wanted to move to 100% Direct Trade coffee, for example, if it were a question of “this is the right thing to do in terms of personal and consumer ethics” vs. “that will cause the company to not make as much money”, the fear is that the money would have the priority, as the company is now beholden to stockholders and investors rather than personal vision.

Mind you, with the information that’s come out since the “Stumptown sold out” rumormill started, I don’t believe that this is the case, but nonetheless, this is where our fears come from.

Jackson O'Brien ( 06/02/2011 at 5:05 pm )

    I understand that fear, I’ll be really disappointed if things end up that way. But everyone who’s assuming the worst is prematurely reactulating.

    bwj ( 06/02/2011 at 5:09 pm )

While you’re fears are warranted Stumptown’s brand is based on direct trade, etc etc. so if a company was planning to ruin the brand changing the ethos it had invested in the wrong company. I’m sure they did their due diligence and are aware of their potential return… TSG has a history of giving companies the ability to grow within their existing business model, they don’t seem to change a company, but rather support it. Or so it seems.

jeff ( 06/02/2011 at 7:42 pm )

Yeah right. Have you BEEN to Blue Bottle in Brooklyn? Or to the Cali cafes and kiosks in last 4 years?

Lee Nonn ( 06/04/2011 at 1:45 am )

    Yes, I’ve been to Blue Bottle BK as well as all the top shops in San Francisco in the last 12 months…what’s your point?

    bwj ( 06/04/2011 at 10:01 am )

I don’t get the Blue Bottle comment. Is it that Blue Bottle’s expansion has involved a drop in quality, so that Stumptown’s expansion might also lead to a quality drop? Dunno if that’s fair, esp. since Stumptown has shown a commitment to sourcing good stuff that BB has never shown. BB’s more about show/customer service.

Will ( 06/04/2011 at 7:21 pm )

@jeff, it’s worth noting that Direct Trade is a completely unregulated term. It’s not trademarked, it’s not certified, and thus in a legal sense it’s almost entirely meaningless. I doubt anyone’s misusing the term YET, but there’s nothing preventing any company from misusing the term to say one thing and do another. (another completely unregulated term “All Natural” have a look at the ingredient list of the next “all natural” food item you purchase)

If the money took priority over the ethics and quality of the company, certainly all of us who were early Stumptown adopters would notice a decline, but as the company grew, all those who were either casual supporters or who were introduced to the company through the expansion would think “oh! Stumptown, they’re that really really good coffee company, gotta try that!” and by virtue of the fact that it’s marginally better than Starbux, their expectations will be met, and us snobs who say “they were better before they sold out” are gonna sound like… well exactly like those douches who say “Oh, yeah, Death Cab for Cutie? They were so much better before they sold out”

There was a baker in St. Louis named Ken Rosenthal with a passion for bread. He had the notion of starting an artesianal bakery and sandwich shop that would serve good, wholesome food to his area, and thus opened the St. Louis Bread Company. The bread and sandwiches were amazing, they expanded, and expanded, and expanded, and suddenly realized they could keep expanding if they wanted to, they just needed investors who would ultimately own over 51% of the company. They thought they had a sympathetic ear in Au Bon Pain who did invest in the company, allowing them to expand for the first time beyond the St. Louis area… where their new corporate overlords insisted that the company bear a different name outside of St. Louis: Panera.

Now look at them, when you think “Panera” do you think “spectacular bread and sandwiches” or do you think “slightly better than average chain sandwich shop”?

Jackson O'Brien ( 06/05/2011 at 1:09 am )

I personally found this article from Willamette Week more convincing because the amount of detail and background information it provides. Especially telling is the information about Stumptown re-incorporating in Delaware and that TSG Managing Dir. is now listed as Stumptown’s President (I assume Soreson had been the Pres. before) . To me this doesn’t look like a simple, friendly, hands-off infusion of capital.

see
http://www.wweek.com/portland/blog-27226-stumptown_coffee_has_been_sold_industry_sources_tell_ww.html

The journalist, Ruth Brown, concludes that Duane Sorenson did indeed sell 90% of the company to TSG and until more details are released this will be my operating assumption, too.

(full disclosure: I’m one of the 100 worker-owners of the Equal Exchange co-operative and we compete with Stumptown in some markets)

Rodney North ( 06/06/2011 at 1:23 pm )

    Thanks Rodney. I saw the WWeek article, but it’s still nothing more than pieced together speculation. A journalists conclusion, made from scattered remnants of information doesn’t make it truth. The 90% figure is still heresay at this point. Call me idealistic, but I do believe some people are capable of using money to do good on a larger scale—we’ll see how it all plays out. Also, the NYTimes just came out with an updated article as well.

    bwj ( 06/06/2011 at 1:56 pm )

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