Nine years ago, Jared Linzmeier was working as a barista at Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, a coffee roaster and shop with locations in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. He was at their Silver Lake location on the east side of L.A., learning the ins and outs of the coffee business.
Over the next few years, Linzmeier moved up to manage roasting and oversee quality control, before becoming a regional account manager for the Intelligentsia brand in Portland, Oregon. His next move was to Seattle, where he became the director of coffee for Caffe Ladro, a chain around the city. He traveled around the world, sourcing coffee for his employer. It was through this position that he came up with his own idea for a business.
“I realized there were a lot of coffees that were underrepresented or overlooked," Linzmeier said. “I wanted to work with producers and coffee growers that I felt had more of a story to tell. It was an epiphany."
Finding his market
In 2013, Linzmeier relocated with his wife and children to the small town of Nelsonville, in Wisconsin, his home state. There, he opened Ruby Coffee Roasters, a coffee sourcing and roasting company.
His Ruby Colorful Coffees come from countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Colombia, Honduras, Burundi, and Guatemala. He sells wholesale to cafes, shops, and restaurants, offers a subscription program for individuals, and has an online store, as well as a tasting room for customers who want to sample his products.
Unlike bigger brands, Linzmeier said that he focuses on specialty products, which is a current trend. “What we're doing runs parallel to other movements in our country and around the world," he said. “We're restoring and appreciating the unique, small-batch, and craft things. They have more personality around them."
Jumping over hurdles to get started
Linzmeier knew the coffee business. He could spot some fantastic beans and had connections to growers around the world. In 2013, he easily established his business through LegalZoom as an LLC, and later became an S corp. for tax purposes.
What he did struggle with was sorting out the government regulations surrounding his business. “It's hard to figure out exactly what's required to be compliant in any industry," he said. “I was getting all these letters from the FDA, the USDA, the Department of Agriculture, and the county. They said I owed money, I had to fill this form out, there were deadlines, and I missed them. There was paranoia. Sifting through these regulations was a challenge."
Like any small business owner, Linzmeier also had to figure out how to get customers on board. He used his contacts, and distinguished himself from the competition by providing a high-quality product. “Getting customers was the number one hurdle," he said. “But we cleared that much easier than most small businesses."
Growing the business—and winning accolades
Since consumers are interested in going to local coffee shops, rather than only the large chains, Linzmeier has been able to expand his business well beyond the borders of Wisconsin. Cafes, restaurants, and markets in Los Angeles, Seattle, Tampa, Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Portland are carrying Ruby Colorful Coffees, and he's garnered accolades for his roasting skills.
Ruby Coffee Roasters was on Thrillist's 2014 list of the best new coffee roasters in the country, as well as being named an "up and comer" among Epicurious' “18 Coffee Roasters You Need to Know" in 2015.
“We are growing and expanding and doing it from a town of 200 people," he said.
Taking that leap of faith
Though Linzmeier enjoyed working as a coffee sourcer and roaster for his past employers, he knew that at some point he had to take a chance on himself.
“The comfort and illusion of structure and safety isn't always better than the leap into the void," he said. “There is a lot of confusion and insecurity that gets thrown around the establishment of businesses. People find themselves going, 'Well, I don't know, I'm not an entrepreneur, so maybe I shouldn't start a business.'"
Instead of letting the negative thoughts hinder his dreams, Linzmeier focused on building his own confidence. Through Ruby Coffee Roasters, he discovered that he's great at marketing, and able to successfully run a company of his own.
“I didn't realize how valuable my insights were when I was tucked away working for someone else," he said. “Now I'm absolutely happy. I can't imagine my life otherwise."