“I’ve been drinking coffee since I was about seven or eight years old,” Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roaster co-owner Larry Challain says with a laugh. “My mom let me take a sip here and there.”
His early appreciation for the heady brew, coupled with a life-changing visit to a Seattle coffee store in 1977, eventually led Challain to a career in coffee alongside his wife, Cherie.
“I walked into the Wet Whisker and realized that I wanted to do coffee,” Challain says. “I read books for quite a few years and we saved my wife’s salary and finally were able to open a place called Dancing Goats Espresso Company.”
Larry and Cherie opened that first shop in Olympia in August 1988, not long after Dick Batdorf and Shannon Bronson created Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters.
“We were always going to roast,” says Challain, who had traveled and researched extensively with Cherie to formulate their business plan, “but Batdorf & Bronson had just opened up and we decided to buy our coffee from them for a short period.”
Meanwhile, Batdorf and Bronson divorced, and then Batdorf passed away in 1990.
In April of 1990, the Challains purchased Batdorf & Bronson. Since then, the coffee roastery has expanded to six retail locations – including one in Atlanta, Georgia – and its product is now sold wholesale across the country.
“It’s grown a wee bit,” Challain says with a smile.
As a nod to their original coffeehouse, four of their outlets are named Dancing Goats, and Batdorf & Bronson’s premier blend uses the same moniker.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but we’ve been very pleased with what we’ve done,” says Challain. “When we went into business our goal was just to do a good job and have something to be proud of. We figured if we could do that, the rest would take care of itself.”
Cherie Challain designs all the retail spaces, the layouts, colors, and materials all working together to create relaxed, inviting, warm shops where folks can sit back and enjoy artisan-roasted coffee.
For an in-depth tasting experience, customers can visit Batdorf & Bronson’s Tasting Room, modeled after a wine tasting room and just a stone’s throw away from the Olympia Farmers Market.
“It’s essentially the same experience you would have at a winery, except with coffee,” says Mike Ferguson, Batdorf & Bronson’s Business Development Director, based in Atlanta.
The counter is very similar, and the staff is extremely knowledgeable about coffee. There are always at least two coffees available and any Batdorf & Bronson coffee a customer likes can be hand brewed on the spot.
“There’s no espresso, it’s just drip coffee – so it’s really focused on the coffee itself. No milk,” Ferguson adds with a laugh.
“First and foremost, we’re a premium coffee roasting company,” says Challain. “Our passion is coffee – seeking out and producing and roasting great coffee.”
But, he continues, the company also feels strongly that customer service is critical. “And it all works into how we source our coffee, our relationships, and how we treat our employees and our vendors.”
Every new hire at Batdorf & Bronson receives a document titled “The Right Way,” which emphasizes not just the company’s passion for coffee but also the importance of respect. “You treat everybody with respect,” Challain says, emphatically, “whether it’s the customer or the person who delivers your milk, because they’re key players in your success, too.”
He says one of his and Cherie’s goals has always been to make Batdorf & Bronson a place where they both would love to work.
“It’s a very easy place to work in terms of relationships,” says Ferguson. “Everyone’s easy-going and very committed. The work itself can be challenging, but that’s always exciting.”
Batdorf & Bronson’s entire 80-employee team is dedicated to sustainability. The company offers Certified Organic, Fair Trade Certified, and Bird-Friendly Shade-Grown coffees. They’re also dedicated to lightening the company’s environmental footprint through the purchase of 100% renewable energy.
“Larry likes to say that we’re focused on being a 100-year-old company,” Ferguson says. “So the day-to-day decisions we make are really focused on the long-term.” Batdorf & Bronson doesn’t chase trends or compromise anything for short-term gain.
“We’re always focused on the long-term, and running a very good business,” says Ferguson. “We’re proud of the quality in everything we do, not just the coffee.”
Batdorf & Bronson Coffeehouse
516 S. Capitol Way
Batdorf & Bronson Tasting Room
200 Market St. NE
Olympia WA 98501
The Dancing Goats Coffee Bar
4219 6th Ave. SE
Dancing Goats Espresso Bar
111 Market St. NE
Dancing Goats Espresso Bar at Bayview Market
516 Fourth Ave. W.
360.352.4901 ext. 3
Dancing Goats Coffee Bar
419 W. Ponce De Leon
Decatur GA 30030