Five years ago, Alec Tod was using a popcorn-maker on his stove as a coffee bean roaster.
Little did the former pastor know java would become his new calling.
Tod is now roasting 100 pounds of beans each week from farms across the globe at his own shop, Indie Coffee Roasters in Carmel, the only barista to do so on-site in the coffee-craving suburb.
“I just became interested in it as a lay person because it’s such an interesting and complex beverage and an important avenue to connecting people with each other,” said Tod, 28, a former communications pastor at Northview Church in Carmel and East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis.”I just started getting more and more serious about it.”
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Last year, Tod, his wife, Jenny, and another couple, Kevin and Diane McAndrews, decided to buy an old house at 220 E. Main St., for $320,000, invest in a bit of renovation and convert it to a coffee shop. None of them had experience working in or owning coffee houses but all shared an appreciation for the community-bonding they could foster.
For four years before that, Tod had run Indie Coffee Roasters as an online company and wholesale supplier for offices and business or sold his beans at farmer’s markets.
“The coffee shop is really the velcro that brings people together,” said Diane McAndrews, 50, who usually works the counter with Tod and is the described by the group as the “people person.” She and her husband moved to Carmel from Oregon, where she worked as a nurse, six years ago and thought it a a good location for a shop.
The shop opened in the Arts and Design District Jan. 23 and though business has steadily increased, McAndrews said the owners are still learning about customer habits and tendencies.
“It is so hard to get a rhythm for when the people will come,” McAndrews said. “Weather counts, but we are trying to figure it all out.”
In that short period, they’ve already come to know their regulars well. “You meet people sitting at the coffee bar, they talk about their kids,” McAndrews said. “We were hoping it would be a place to meet new friends and that’s what is happening.”
Tod handles the roasting, which for now is done Mondays, while Diane McCartney concentrates on the customers. Kevin McAndrews is in charge of operations and Jenny Tod, the marketing.
They brew only single-origin coffee with no blending or flavoring. The beans are purchased seasonally; coffees from New Guinea, Brazil, Kenya, Ethiopia and Guatemala are now on sale. The raw coffee comes in the form of green, hard beans about the size of limas, and are roasted in a large drum in a dedicated room. It takes about 15 minutes to cook 25 pounds.
The owners like to say their coffee comes from roaster to cup the same way modern chefs describe their food as being served from farm to table,. The tables at Indie Coffee Roasters are black slate, set against a glossy white, simplistic interior. The coffee bar, too, with about five stools, is sleek and minimalist.
Carmel city spokesman Dan McFeely said Indie Coffee Roasters cements the city’s place as the coffee destination for Hamilton County. A few years ago, the city created the ” Caffeine Trail,” a listing of about 17 coffee and tea shops in the central city. But none of them, even Hubbard &Craven, roasted their beans at the locations. Instead they brought the roasted beans in from Indianapolis and elsewhere.
“When coffee is roasting you can really smell the stuff and that makes it a great place to get a cup of coffee,” McFeely said, adding that he hopes the aroma inspires other coffee makers to roast their own.
With more office space opening in the area in coming years, demand for coffee will grow, too.
“I surely hope this isn’t the last roaster we have,” he said. “There is going to be a lot more room for coffee around here.”
Randall Lockner, 43, became a regular about two weeks ago. The Carmel resident said he drives often to Chicago for his sales job and appreciates that the city has so many coffee houses that roast on-site.
“I would drink at Starbucks when I was here, then one day I was driving down the street and saw this place and it was wonderful,” Lockner said. “I’ve been here about five times since.”
Jon Owens, 37, a pastor, had been ordering bags of Indie Roasters coffee for his congregation at the City of Lights Church at the Avondale Meadows YMCA in Indianapolis.
“Once we switched from Folgers to Indie Roasters everybody noticed the difference just by the fresh smell,” Owens said. “Eventually my wife said we should be drinking that at home, which we are.”
“Now, I even come here from Lawrence whenever I can make it, just to support the local business.”
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