Jim Munson, co-founder and CEO, Brooklyn Roasting Co.He launched a coffee brand that pays tribute to the borough's past and present
Jim Munson has had an influential hand in two important local industries: beer and coffee. After spending more than a decade as a VP and partner at Brooklyn Brewery in the 1990s and then seven years as a VP of Dallis Bros. Coffee, he decided to start his own business, inspired by both. “I had the idea in my head to open sort of a Brooklyn-Brewery-like, newfangled entrepreneurial business based in coffee that focused on sustainability, and on a more personal note, a business I could be proud of.”
Munson launched Brooklyn Roasting Co. in 2009 in Williamsburg, right at home. “I started out in my loft. A couple French presses, one espresso machine, and really just bootstrapped it from the beginning,” he says in our podcast. The company grew rapidly, with Munson pushing an ambition business plan. “We wanted to be three things: a manufacturer, supporting a wholesale and a retail company.” The company has succeeded in all three and is now based in the massive brick building that once housed the power plant for the entire Brooklyn Navy Yard.
In nine cafes in Brooklyn and Manhattan, the company fosters a welcoming atmosphere. “We try to cultivate a fun environment both for our employees and for our customers so the design of the space should be comfortable,” Munson says of the carefully curated cafes. “We are specifically not trying to design cold, angular spaces. We sometimes put in couches and we have fun with color.” Munson says the company “had hoped when we started the business to sort of undercut what I felt was the snobby, pretentious character of specialty coffee, and replace that with something that felt more in line with the character of Brooklyn: sturdy, robust, straightforward and not snotty.”
From the outset, another main goal for Brooklyn Roasting has been “sourcing coffees that taste great and do good,” Munson says. In an industry known for exploitation of workers and land, Brooklyn Roasting pursues socially responsible practices, “working directly with Fair Trade USA.” Munson says his company pays “a certification fee in exchange for being guaranteed an audit trail on the coffees that we purchase. We call that third-party certification.” Although there is some controversy around the methods, he says it’s a way to make sure the company is “not buying, for lack of better comparison, the blood diamonds of the coffee world.”
Munson said the company’s name pays tribute to Brooklyn’s past, which included a major role in 19th-century coffee production, and its present association with craft and creativity. “I give [Brooklyn Brewery] all the credit in the world for pioneering the popularity of Brooklyn as a place-name brand, locally and in the world. It certainly paved the way for us to recognize the potential in the word ‘Brooklyn.’ I really loved the idea that Brooklyn had played such a central role in the history of these two great beverages and I thought that, just as beer deserved a Brooklyn Brewery named after the borough, that the other great American-brewed beverage deserved a company with a similar name.” Along with the borough being a well-loved brand, Munson believes in the vitality of Brooklyn as an entrepreneurial hub. “I think the various [municipal] constituencies have advocated locally and beyond that the environment for business is better and better.”–By Kora Feder