For Roasters & Retailers

How the sale of this small Boise coffee seller helps the quest for a better cup

Boise coffee drinkers could soon enjoy more exotic blends of coffee. The sale of Dawson Taylor Coffee Roasters brings the company an infusion of cash that will let it buy small lots of high-quality coffee along with its regular beans.

That reflects a trend among coffee drinkers to buy more gourmet coffee at premium prices — and efforts by coffee shops to oblige. “All of us are trying to offer more of a boutique-type coffee,” said Thomas Hammer, who owns a shop across 8th Street from Dawson Taylor’s main store in Downtown Boise .

Hayden Beverage, Idaho’s largest distributor of beer and wine, bought Dawson Taylor, a coffee roaster and wholesaler that also operates two Boise coffeehouses, on Monday, Oct. 2, for an undisclosed price.

Dave Ledgard, 58, who founded Dawson Taylor 22 years ago, will remain as president for at least seven years.

Ledgard said having the financial backing of Hayden Beverage will let him pursue rare lots of coffee that previously were beyond his price range.

The best coffees are found on farms in the mountains of countries such as Costa Rica, Indonesia and Yemen, with the higher elevations yielding richer flavor. But the coffee shrubs there produce fewer beans than crops in lower areas, and they command higher prices.

“Now I have the firepower to go after these coffees and get them,” said Ledgard, who has already struck deals for some.

Hammer said he welcomes the competition and thinks Ledgard’s fine-coffee purchases will help Dawson Taylor. Hammer’s Spokane-based company, Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasters, operates 18 shops, including one at 298 N. 8th St. Dawson Taylor is at 219 N. 8th.

“I give him a thumbs-up,” Hammer said.

Does Butch Otter still buy coffee there?

Gourmet coffee accounts for 57 percent of the coffee consumed in the U.S., up from 46 percent in 2012, the National Coffee Association says.

Premium espresso and cappuccino coffee drinks can fetch $4 or more, twice the cost of a regular cup. Ledgard said he doesn’t yet know what a cup of his super-premium coffee will cost.

Ledgard named Dawson Taylor after his son, who was 1 month old when Ledgard launched the business in 1995 in his garage.

He made headlines eight years ago when he chastised Idaho Gov. Butch Otter for buying his morning coffee from Hammer. Ledgard confronted Otter for promoting the Buy Idaho program while spending his coffee money with an out-of-state company.

Otter spokesman Jon Hanian would not say where the governor gets his coffee today but said Otter does not hold a grudge against Ledgard.

“That was a long time ago,” Hanian said. “He is an equal opportunity, coffee-drinking employer.”

Coming: a remodeling

Hayden plans to remodel the Downtown shop next spring, giving it a more contemporary look while retaining a comfortable feeling and charm, Ledgard said.

Ledgard will continue to oversee operations at the Slow Bar pour-over shop at Dawson Taylor’s roasting site at 1035 S. Lusk St. south of Downtown, as well as at the 8th Street shop. His 28 employees will remain. He declined to disclose the shops’ sales.

The Treasure Valley is still bursting with locally owned and chain coffee shops, with new ones opening occasionally. Seattle-based Starbucks leads the way with 41 locations, followed by Dutch Bros, from Grants Pass, Ore., with 17 shops; Moxie Java, based in Garden City, with 13; and Portland’s Black Rock Coffee Bar with four.

Hayden Beverage, operated by the Hayden family for 47 years, has no plans to add outlets. Instead, it plans to focus on developing the wholesale business.

Beer and coffee? Really?

Hayden said he knows of no other beer or wine distributor in the United States that also sells coffee.

Beer and coffee might not appear a natural pairing, but Dodds Hayden, the distributor’s CEO, said he believes his company and Dawson Taylor are a natural fit. Hayden Beverage, with 350 employees and 100 vehicles, will bring Dawson Taylor coffee to new heights throughout the Intermountain West, he said. Dawson Taylor has about 20 employees.

“High-end, handcrafted specialty coffee fits in with so much of our beer portfolio and so much of our wine portfolio,” Hayden said. “It’s a beverage that’s consumed and purchased at a lot of the places where we already operate. It creates an opportunity for us to be closer partners with our customers.”

For 20 years, Ledgard leased a 400-square-foot space off 42nd Street in Garden City as a warehouse and roasting site. Two years ago, the company moved to a spot with twice as much space on Lusk Street. That put them next door to the Boise Bicycle Project, Dawson Taylor’s favorite charity. BBP gets 50 cents for every pound of coffee sold to help it supply free bikes to children.

Dawson Taylor roasts small batches — 25 pounds at a time. Each batch takes 12 to 15 minutes.

“I’m very particular about the beans I buy,” Ledgard said. “What altitude were they grown at? What cultivar are they actually growing at the farm? How is it processed? What is the moisture content? How is it stored?”

New wholesale customers boost sales

Business has been booming: Sales increased 29 percent last month from the previous month. Part of the increase came from The College of Idaho switching to Dawson Taylor coffee for its cafeteria, coffeehouse and catering operations. Also, Ridley’s Family Markets, based in Jerome, has begun selling Dawson Taylor coffee in its in-store shops in three states.

“That’s really hard to manage,” Ledgard said, and the expansion requires access to more capital.

Hayden spent two years talking with Ledgard before they struck a deal. Ledgard said he had been approached before by other suitors.

“They were more of the investor type,” Ledgard said. “Dodds is looking long-term. He wants this to be part of something that he can hand down and that we can continue to make happen.”

Meanwhile, Hayden Beverage also has grown: Hayden said revenue, which he declined to disclose, has tripled in the last 12 years as the company spread from the Treasure Valley to the rest of Idaho, the Spokane area and Montana.

Hayden plans to bring similar growth to Dawson Taylor. “They have a really good product, and I think with a little reach outside the Treasure Valley, they’ve got great potential,” he said.

One of Dawson Taylor’s wholesale customers is Remi McManus, owner of the boutique State &Lemp restaurant in Boise. McManus said he uses a Costa Rican coffee and a decaffeinated espresso.

Ledgard “sources great coffee,” he said. “Typically, our customers say it’s the best coffee they’ve ever had.”

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell


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