DEER ISLE — 44 North Coffee has opened a new production facility at 56 Church St., which will allow owners Melissa Raftery and Megan Dewey-Wood to expand and increase production of their light and medium roasted organic and fair trade coffee beans.
“This whole space will allow us to grow our wholesale and retail,” Raftery said. “This will allow us to ramp up and have two roasters going in the summertime.”
Last year, 44 North roasted 52,000 pounds of beans on the second floor of the historic Seamark Building.
But now, the pair have purchased a property that includes a Victorian home and a former mechanic’s garage, which was gutted and rebuilt. Radiant heat was installed in the flooring. The walls were insulated. Fresh concrete was poured for the floors.
The new property will make a significant difference for production and the staff.
Everything from roasting to grinding to packaging and labeling is on one floor — the ground floor.
There’s space for five pallets of burlap sacks of beans. This is crucial, especially with the supply chain being what it is, the business owners said. Raftery said shipping has increased recently from $185 a pallet to $690 a pallet.
In what is probably one of the best decisions of their entrepreneurial lives, a ping pong table on wheels was purchased to serve as a packing station. The wheels allow the table, laden with boxes, to be wheeled out the garage bay door right to the UPS truck.
Raftery and Dewey-Wood are still buying organic and fair trade coffee from the same producers they bought from when they formed their company 12 years ago.
Meanwhile, Marlena, the Diedrich coffee roaster from Germany, has taken up residence in one corner, awaiting a mate.
Dewey-Wood said a second coffee roaster should arrive in the spring unless supply chain issues hold it up.
Raftery and Dewey-Wood employ five people year-round, not including themselves. Then they hire an additional five employees for seasonal help.
Summer entails staffing the seasonal Stonington cafe at 70 Main St. as well as the year-round cafe at 7 Main St. in Deer Isle.
Incidentally, 44 North is an all-female crew. Not by design, it just happened that way.
Housing is the biggest challenge on the island, the pair said. This past summer, one seasonal employee who came from out of state stayed at Airbnbs all season.
The pair appreciate the efforts of their staff, particularly their grace in dealing with near constant changes in operations due to the pandemic.
“They’ve really pivoted with us,” Dewey-Wood said. “We have the most comfortable team. Our staff has stuck with us and with the best attitudes.”
“Sometimes we have employees who take such good ownership that we feel pushed out,” she added.
The pair started the business as best friends, and that friendship remains strong.
44 North has thrived during the pandemic, thanks to loyal customers and staff.
“Our web sales doubled almost,” said Raftery. “People were ordering 5-pound bags every week.”
Raftery is on the board of Cooperative Coffees. 44 North Coffee became a fully vested member in 2018. That allows Raftery and Dewey-Wood to serve on committees that manage the co-op.
The cooperative describes itself as 23 community-based coffee roasters, spanning the continent from the Yukon to the panhandle of Florida. “Committed to sourcing sustainably grown coffees and to partnering closely with the farmers who grow it, our roasters know that by working together, cooperatively, they can more readily impact and multiply the positive effects of their selective coffee purchasing,” the co-op stated on its website.
When the pandemic began, the co-op provided funds for hand-washing stations in remote fields, Raftery said. It also paid for deliveries of groceries so coffee farming families could reduce their trips to the market during the pandemic.
Trips to visit coffee farmers have been put on hold indefinitely.
“I have no idea when it will be safe to travel again,” said Raftery. There had been a plan to travel to Honduras in March of 2020, but that of course was canceled because of COVID-19.
For more information about the roastery or the coffee co-op, see 44northcoffee.com.