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Meet Amy Smith of Exo Roast

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amy Smith.

Amy, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Exo started ten years ago as a small, wholesale specialty coffee roaster by three friends with multiple passions in the coffee world. Doug Smith, one of our founders, is a former anthropologist, who worked in Puebla, Mexico with coffee farmers for several years. The other partners have been working in coffee shops for decades or have been doing small-scale roasting for an equal amount of time.

We all share a passion for the farmers and producers at the origin. We’ve evolved from a small tasting room in a pretty much empty warehouse neighborhood to now a popular neighborhood meeting destination. We also offer a really great breakfast, and we are a mezcal bar and music venue on the weekends.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Unless you’re a millionaire (and even excluding that) no small business road is smooth! PLENTY of bumps! We executed ideas that flopped, events that were weird, ran specials that gained no traction. Each mistake, however, has helped shape our character.

One big struggle for us was just finding our path. When we had a few successful years under our belt, our natural inclination was to open a second location. However, Tucson has been a difficult place to do that in. We really love historic settings, and small neighborhoods and downtown is so dense and close, it’s hard to find a place to open a second location that has any of the same feels like our current place.

We briefly did pop up a second location and found that we were just attracting the same customer base in another location. Lesson learned, we went back to the drawing board and decided we’d rather deepen our business rather than replicate it. We started sourcing mezcal along with coffee in Mexico, and now we are also a bar and events space. We get to share more of the passions we have and build more community in the same location. I’m happier with this model.

Please tell us about Exo Roast Co.
We are passionate about Mexico, and for years we’ve been pretty devoted to sourcing from Mexico and working on development projects with farmers in Mexico. We love the character of Mexican coffee and feel that farmers there deserve a lot of support to improve their coffee. We are also geographically aligned with Mexico, and since coffee can never be truly “local” in the United States (although that is changing now) we figured Mexico is the next best thing.

I think we’re known for a great sense of community. There’s a laid-back feeling in our place and one of acceptance too. We have relatively little to no employee turn-over, and that’s because we really care about the people that work with us. I’m very proud of the community of regulars and our employees that have grown over the years.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Not sure if there’s much that I would do differently.

We started without a good “brand” or logo, and that’s the first thing I worked on when I came on. That took some time to re-tool, so maybe I’d say I would’ve preferred to have that aesthetic piece first. Saywell’s Design did our logo and I think every new business should not underestimate the power of good design when starting their business.

Every step we’ve taken has been slow and deliberate. We try to do every little thing within our means. I’ve seen a lot of businesses go belly-up because they started with a huge bang and then the many investors didn’t see their return on investment soon enough, and they fold.  Either that or owner/operators realize they don’t really enjoy washing dishes or fixing leaky faucets (it’s not always romantic–being in business). 6 years in, I think the most valuable thing that keeps coming back to me is my years of experience working in restaurants and cafes prior to this. I wouldn’t trade that in for years of business school. Learning how hard it is to be an employee in the service industry is sometimes more valuable than learning how to read a Profit and Loss statement. That ground-level knowledge makes it easier to run a better business.

Pricing:

  • MOST OUR COFFEE is pour-over, single-origin and is in the 3-4 dollar range
  • MOST OF OUR retail coffee is between 13 and 16 dollars a bag
  • We offer mezcal flights and tastings at INCREDIBLE deals–with most mezcal flights in the 20 dollar range
  • Our breakfast sandwiches are in the 8 dollar range. With all local products including the bread, cheese and eggs!

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Julius Schlosburg, Shannon Smith

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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