Over my career, I have had the opportunity to meet or discover some really interesting people. The kind of people that immediately make an impression on you through their values and shared vision.
We are launching a bi-weekly series on our newsletter called FR. Footprints talking to people who are quietly leaving a significant impression on both people and planet.
Ross Evans is someone I met through the FR. Instagram as we were communicating about sizing for one of our 400gsm hooded jackets. There was a fair bit of back and forth to dial in his sizing and we finally got it figured out and shipped Ross his jacket.
Shortly after, Ross sent me some photos of his jacket in use and I spent some time looking at his company Carrier Roasting as this was featured in the background of the photo.
The more I dug deeper into Carrier Roasting and Ross, I asked him if I could call him to talk about his business practices and wanted to get to know Ross personally.
Ross has a very interesting background in footwear that I believe is incredibly relevant to what is happening today in a number of areas, but what he is building with Carrier Roasting is truly exceptional.
You can follow Ross and Carrier Roasting Company on Instagram:
1. Would love to hear more about your journey into coffee - it's such an incredibly complex culture loved by many people for different reasons. Where and when did your connection with coffee truly start before you opened Carrier?
My connection to coffee started pretty early. My parents were both coffee drinkers and I can remember as a kid hearing my dad rev up the whirly blade grinder in the mornings. The smell of coffee would sort of emanate around the house. Funny enough, I didn't start drinking coffee until my early twenties but as a kid the aroma always reminded me of breakfast and the unofficial start to the day.
I don't think I took a sip of coffee until I was probably 23 or 24. That would have been 2004 or 2005. I was working for New Balance at the time and traveling quite a bit for work. I can remember the excitement then of getting into a new city for a trade show or meeting and seeking out the best local coffee shop I could find. I didn't know a ton about coffee at the time, but there was a sense of exploration then and discovery with coffee that really enchanted me.
Fast forward a bit latter into the 2000's and visits to Intelligentsia's Sunset Park, LA location and experiencing La Colombe in Philly and even Stumptown when the Ace Hotel in NYC opened were all super impactful for me and turned me onto what we'd now call specialty coffee or third wave coffee. On my journey to coffee, these were really critical experiences. At all these locations you'd find carefully sourced coffee, roasted light so it was sweet and full of flavour, and prepared by folks who knew as much as you wanted to know about the coffee they were serving. Those early experiences for me of traveling and experiencing coffee culture around the country served as the catalyst for me to start studying coffee.
I'm the type of person when I get into something, I have an urge to educate myself about how it's made, how it's produced, what's important about it, etc. Around 2009 and 2010 I started reading every book and every blog I could find on coffee. This was the time for me when I transitioned from being a passive consumer of coffee to having a deep desire to understand it. This desire to learn eventually lead me to start Carrier Roasting Company in 2015.
2. Fair trade, organic, ethical - these are words thrown around in many industries now (especially in apparel as marketing spew). Can you explain what people should truly be paying attention to when picking what coffee companies they want to bring into their home?
This is sort of a loaded question, haha! Many of the terms consumers have been trained to look for related to coffee don't mean what they think they mean. Let's take Fair Trade for instance. We've been trained that Fair Trade means the farmer is paid a "fair" price for their coffee. The definition of fair trade pricing is a $.20/lb premium is paid over the commodity price. If the commodity price is lower than $1.40/lb Fair Trade guarantees a minimum price of $1.60/lb. If it's over $1.40/lb, Fair Trade pays the $.20/lb premium on top of the commodity price. The commodity price of coffee hasn't gone above $1.40/b in quite some time, so let's call Fair Trade pricing $1.60/lb. That's what the farmer gets. Now that's problematic because in most countries that's at or below the break even cost to grow and produce coffee. That, to us, isn't fair and it is not sustainable. Our sourcing practices are about sustainability and longevity. If I want a farmer to continue to produce coffee we love, I need to pay far more than Fair Trade. They need to not only break even, but they need to make a profit in order to make investments in their farming and processing practices and offer livable wages to their employees, etc. To say nothing of that fact that certifications like fair trade (and organic for that matter) are often too expensive for small producers and they are by no means an indicator of quality.
So, what should consumers pay attention to? There are some simple things consumers can do to ensure they are bringing coffee into their homes that was grown, processed, and sourced in ethical ways. Number one is you can buy coffee from a roaster that shares detailed information about where and how the coffee came to be. Information isn't always an indicator of ethical treatment, but it's a step in that process. Another part of that is being able to ask questions of the roaster about the coffee. That can be online on social media or in-person if you have a local specialty coffee roaster they can go to. If the roaster only offers vague descriptions of where the coffee is from and who they bought it from, or vague answers to questions, there's very little likelihood that even the roaster can be confident ethical practices are in play. Even when coffee includes certification information (like organic and fair trade) consumers should ask questions and dig deeper.
At Carrier, our business is built on quality and transparency. Those are the drivers of our business and guide the decisions we make. That's why we're paying typically 3-5x Fair Trade pricing and offering detailed information for all of our coffees. Beyond simply where in the world the coffee came from, we tell the consumer who else was involved in us purchasing the coffee (in almost all cases of coffee in America there's an importing third party who plays a key role) and we share how much we paid for the coffee. We want to have long term relationships with producer partners and we want them to have the resources to be able to invest in their operations and produce the highest quality product they can. We're willing to pay more so that relationship can not only continue, but improve year after year. A critical piece for all that work is for consumers to be educated about what all that means and why it's important. And that's not to say we're doing everything we can. We have more to do in this regard but we're proud of the steps we've taken to educate our customers about the importance of transparency.
3. What was the motivation to open Carrier?
In 2011 I moved from Boston back to my home state of Vermont. My wife and I had a 1.5 year old and a newborn. It had been a dream of mine to move back to Vermont and we decided we needed to go for it. Coming back home was great and it was awesome being around friends and family when our kids were so young. But, Vermont was lacking in the specialty coffee world. I traveled around the state a bit trying to find coffee roasters who were sourcing and roasting coffee in that way that had enchanted me in the early and mid 2000s and there just weren't any.
Starting Carrier was as much about necessity as anything. I had spent years learning about coffee on my own. Moving back to Vermont and not being able to find coffee that I wanted to drink was really the spark to start the company. In 2014 I met my eventual business partner Scott Kerner, who was incredibly knowledgeable in the Vermont specialty food and beer world. He was dating my sister at the time (they're married now) and the first day we met we started sharing stories about coffee and talking about how much the Vermont coffee scene was lacking and the ideas just went from there.
In early 2015, we bought our first coffee roaster from a roaster in NYC. Drove it to Vermont in the bed of my dad's Toyota Tacoma (in a snowstorm) and in March we started selling coffee through a subscription model.
Another critical time in our company's history was meeting Matt Borg in 2017. Matt was the lead production roaster for Handsome Coffee/Blue Bottle coffee in LA and before that worked for Intelligentsia. We met him when he and his wife moved to Vermont and immediately struck up a working relationship. Within a few months of working with Matt, Scott and I offered him an equal ownership stake in our company and he became our third partner. Matt was not only an exceptional coffee buyer and roaster, but he shared similar ideas on transparency and the importance of educating customers and the importance of ensuring that all chains in the coffee buying and selling link are strong. It's not overstating it by saying that our company wouldn't be what it is today without Matt.
Since then, we've expanded to include a web shop, two coffee bars of our own (one at the Roastery in Northfield, VT and one in Burlington, VT) and we sell our coffee through a network of 70+ wholesale partners mostly in the Northeast.
4. Can you tell us more about the name and incredible logo?
Our name comes from the humble carrier pigeon and our logo is a stylized depiction of the carrier pigeon. We've always looked at ourselves as "messengers" of coffee stories and our name and logo is a tribute to that. The logo was designed by Jason Endres who is an extremely talented and accomplished designer. He happens to live in our town, but he's done some pretty iconic design work for NYC Marathon, Virgin, and others.
5. You were part of the early emergence of heritage footwear in streetwear - can you tell us more about that?
The concepts of streetwear and the connection between footwear and streetwear for me really come from being an athlete. Particularly being a basketball player and the connection basketball and hip hop have. I played basketball (and soccer and golf) in high school and played basketball in college. So streetwear, sport, and hip hop were always a part of my life.
In the early 2000s I took an entry level job with New Balance. At the time I wasn't working on their lifestyle product (574s, 990 series, etc) but I was close enough to it to see what was happening and how New Balance sort of accidentally fell into streetwear. At that time the internet wasn't obviously as critical for selling product (and in some cases, like New Balance's, wasn't even a thing - if you can believe that!) New Balance was really just dabbling in streetwear, reissuing popular models in interesting colorways and interesting collaborations. But there was never a ton of intention behind it for New Balance in those days...it was just sort of organic. And I don't mean that as a negative, it was just part of their brand to approach trends with skepticism and be really pure with their intentions and focus on running. I actually think there's a lot to be learned there for entrepreneurs.
Through New Balance I met Nick Santora and Jennifer Haiken who opened Classic Kicks, a sneaker shop, in NYC in 2003. They were strong influences (and still are) on me in terms of seeing what was happening in streetwear. Nick's aesthetic then and now (he still shares lots of inspiring stuff on his IG @classickicks) was really forward-thinking. Classic Kicks was one of those brick and mortar shops that was at the forefront of growing streetwear culture in NYC. Classic Kicks closed in 2010 but Jen and Nick remain some of my closest friends. Nick works as a consultant for streetwear brands and is still one of the coolest people I know.
My time at New Balance also opened my eyes to the manufacturing process and the importance of sourcing. New Balance has a couple factories in the US, one of them was just a couple miles from the corporate office and being able to pop in and understand the manufacturing process was really critical. Seeing how things were made was eye-opening.
6. What's in your bag - full detail including Sharpie marker, tee length, ball marker etc.
Driver: Taylormade Sim Max 10.5 (set to 10 degree) with Hazrdus Smoke Yellow Shaft
3 wood: Callaway Epic Flash with Hazrdus Smoke Grey Shaft
3i Hybrid: TaylorMade M4 19 degree
4i - 6i: Mizuno JPX 919 Forged with Dynamic Gold S120 shafts
7i-PW: Mizuno JPX 919 Tour with Dynamic Gold S120 shafts
50, 54, 58: Cleveland RTX 4, mid bounce with Dynamic Gold Tour Issue s400 shafts
Putter: Odyssey Stroke Lab ArmLock
Ball: Callaway Chromesoft X Tripletrack
Bag: Jones Utility Trouper
Accessories: Red Sharpie; 2.5" wooden tees; Bubba Whips alignment sticks; Sentinel Range Finder Case (with a Bushenell Rangefinder inside); Headcovers from Seamus and MuniKids; Sugarloaf Social Club Towel
I've recently really gotten into sensors and launch monitors. I know that's wading into being over the top technical and I don't use them when I'm playing...only for practice, but I use a Blast Sensor to measure putting stats and the Mevo launch monitor for full swing stuff. In Vermont we get 7 months (if we're lucky) of golf and the rest of the time it's snowing so the sensors are as much about giving me something golf-related to obsess over in the off-season as they are about performance.
7. Putt with pin in or out?
Pin out. I'm old school. But Covid restrictions in Vermont have forced me to putt with the pin in. I miss the sound of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup!
8. Whats your feeling on the state of golf right now - all levels
Golf's in a weird place, to be honest. There's a lot of people talking about how much golf is shifting and moving, getting younger and more diverse, but I think some of that is misguided. Participation and rounds played is one metric and that number was way up 2020. I've read that in the US alone, +25 million more rounds of golf were played in June, July, and August 2020 compared to 2019. That's great. But I think the misconception is that those rounds were played by a younger and more diverse audience. I was speaking with an analyst from NPD last week about this. Their data says that golf's growth in 2020 was thanks to boomers, not thanks to a younger demographic. And NPD is predicting that it will not change for quite some time.
So, if boomers are making up golf's growth, why is the perception that golf is undergoing a youth movement? There's definitely an echochamber effect in golf right now. There are a number of emerging brands bringing youthful, design-friendly, aesthetically-pleasing products and content into golf so it feels like the game is getting younger and more forward-thinking. Golf certainly feels "cooler" than it's ever felt. But is that translating to younger and more "hip" golfers? Is it translating to golfers who are in the sport for life? I think the consumption of the products and content is largely done by the same small percentage of golfers who care about that stuff. I'm not sure the stuff is actually bringing more youth or more diversity into the game. And I'm not sure golf being cool and golf growing are even compatible. 99% of brands and individuals presenting golf in a cool way are doing it to sell more (products or content) to the same small percentage of people. I don't think the streetwear model of "limited" releases, fast product cycles, and social media hype are growing the game.
Shit, to me, golf's always been cool! I've played golf for 25 years. I thought it was cool when I was 15. I think it's cool now that I'm pushing 40. As a kid, golf taught me so much. It was the only individual sport I played and the values you learn from an individual sport are so critical. If growing the game is the focus, one thing golf and the golf industry should focus on is access for youth. Not only getting kids out on the course in a more affordable way, but providing resources for parents to get their kids into the game. My parents weren't golfers and we had no idea what we were doing when I decided I wanted to play golf at 15. There are more resources today for parents...but golfing parents also need to be taught how to share the game with their kids. I see all too often a golfing parent forcing the game on their kids or instilling bad habits in them and I'm not sure there's really any resources available to help parents navigate those traps.
For me, getting out on the golf course with my kids (Oliver is 10 and Chloe is 12) is such a treat but my expectations aren't about performance or swing coaching during that time. My expectations are that we'll enjoy being outside and have fun. That can be for 30 minutes or two hours and that is entirely up to my kids. We have a good rhythm that works for us when we play golf together: putting games on the putting green, hit balls on the range for 15 or 20 minutes, then play three holes or until they're ready for a snack in the clubhouse. That's it. I cherish that time with them and will take it whenever I can get it. But if the focus were on swing coaching or scoring or playing a full round neither they or I would end up enjoying it. There needs to be more of that available for kids and parents need to create more space like that for kids...whether it's on the golf course or wherever...anyway, that's a bit off topic!
9. Are you going full Rick Rubin beard length or keeping it trimmed?
I keep my beard at a reasonable length. If it gets too long things start looking weird. I'd say it's sort of "Tom Hanks in Cast Away" length just about all the time.
10. Top 10 albums of all-time?
Wow, tough question. My music taste can be all over the place. This is in no particular order:
Fela Kuti Africa '70 Live!
Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory
Jay Z: Reasonable Doubt
De La Soul Is Dead
Wu Tang Clan: Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)
Phil Collins: No Jacket Required
Kendrick Lamar: Damn
Kid Cudi: Man on the Moon III: The Chosen
Charlie Parker: Bird is Free
Pharoahe Monch: PTSD
11. Where would you like Carrier to be in 5 years from now?
In five years I hope that Carrier will maintain our current focus on quality and transparency. I'd like us to be seen as the most transparent coffee company in the industry. And I'd like our customers to be widely educated on the importance of transparency in the coffee supply chain. That's a pretty high standard and requires a lot of effort and careful planning on our part, but we're on that path. I'd also like us to be seen as a place where someone can make a career. Our team has grown from 3 people at the end of 2019 to 11 people at the end of 2020. That's not crazy high or fast growth by some standards, but more and more we have team members coming into the business looking for a career in coffee. If that's their goal I want them to find that in Carrier. We do that by providing exceptional training and opportunities to grow.
If we remain true to that vision and remain focused roasting transparently sourced, high quality coffee, growth in terms of number of wholesale accounts, number of our own cafes, or website growth, etc will all take care of itself.
12. Three tour players you would want to go on a golf trip with - alive or passed on.
Ben Hogan (swing god), Fred Couples (vibe god), Cam Smith (just seems like such a chill guy)
13. Whats your opinion on the new Clubhouse app? (I'm super addicted to it myself)
I'm absolutely loving Clubhouse. It reminds me of Twitter when it first launched. Everyone is connecting, sharing what they know, learning from others. I think they've really struck on something with the audio being the main medium. The hardest thing for social media networks to do is to stick to their core competency and I hope they don't shift too far from the audio only model. I think there are some interesting privacy and security upsides as well to everything being audio based. I've only been on it for a couple weeks but I'm really excited to see where it goes.
14. Cotton or tech for playing golf?
I prefer cotton, but it really depends on the weather for me. I sweat a lot, so if it's 70 degrees or more, or if it's likely to rain, I'll usually wear a tech shirt. Under 70 and dry temps, I'm wearing cotton. My preference is to wear "regular" clothing when golfing and that for me means cotton.