Pow! Dynamite Roasting Co. is 10 now
In the fall of 2008, a rich, enticing aroma began to fill the air around a small building near the convergence of U.S. 70 and Old U.S. 70 on the west side of Black Mountain. Inside, Andy Gibbon was roasting fresh coffee beans while his business partner Josh Gibbs worked diligently on a plan to market their fledgling company.
The concept was simple: “coffee for everyone.” It turns out, as Dynamite Roasting Co. celebrates 10 years of doing business, fair trade, fresh roasted, organic coffee was exactly what the people wanted.
The demand for Dynamite coffee was immediate once neighbors caught a whiff of the product. The plan of a wholesale-only operation was quickly altered when Gibbs and Gibbon learned how eager the community was to support what they were doing.
“We were doing a pretty good job roasting coffee, but we were still learning,” said Gibbon, who started roasting as a hobby while working as a professional brewer in the area. “People started poking their heads in and asking if they could get a cup. At first we told them we were only going to roast and run a wholesale business, but after that first or second month the rent came due.”
Almost instantly the modest space turned into a community hub, with a steady flow of people passing through daily to get a taste of something that was “kind of a new thing” for many at the time, Gibbon said.
“Most of our early customers had no idea what roasted coffee was or about the process itself,” he said. “That was one of the things that got me really excited about this business, because when I started roasting coffee in my kitchen I’d never had fresh roasted coffee before and I’d worked for years in different coffee shops.”
Customers were interested in learning more about Dynamite and their coffee, and the owners were eager ambassadors.
“This is really where ‘coffee for everyone’ comes into play, since everybody can taste the difference between fresh coffee and coffee that’s not fresh,” Gibbon said.
While proving early on to be a skilled roaster, Gibbon relied on the marketing background of Old Fort native Gibbs to build the brand.
“He told me he knew how to roast coffee but he didn’t know anything about branding,” Gibbs said. “It had always been my dream to brand a product.”
They needed something that would help call attention to their unique business.
“We had a clear idea of what we wanted our brand to be about: organic, fair trade, sustainable, high-quality, fresh roasted, those sorts of things,” Gibbon said. “But we needed something that could express that and we wanted it to be bigger than just naming it after the area we’re in.”
Gibbon’s younger brother had a small print company named Dynamite and told his big brother to use the name. It fit.
The pair decided to “get out of our own way” and not design the logo, according to Gibbs. They turned to the graphics department at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
“We thought about our mission in the community and we didn’t want to be people who wanted something for free,” he said. “Instead of asking to have a student design the logo as a project, we offered them real world experience. We asked for their most talented, motivated students.”
Gibbs and Gibbon met Adalee Elkins and offered to pay her fair market value for her work. Today, the yellow burning wick and red stick of a dynamite is an iconic image in Black Mountain and a fixture at retailers throughout Western North Carolina.
After a couple of years, Gibbon and Gibbs added head roaster Thomas Lussier, who was able to tweak Gibbon’s original flavor profiles and deliver Dynamite’s signature taste consistently.
“He is a real professional and I am a hobbyist,” Gibbon said. “There is a big difference there.”
Lussier approaches his work in what Gibbs calls “the Dynamite way,” a quality he believes all of the employees there share.
“He’s not just a great employee, he’s a great human and that's common theme with our employees,” Gibbs said. “Everyone who works at Dynamite has a way of working together toward a goal in such a healthy way, almost a way that doesn’t really seem possible.”
A desire to collaborate with others for the greater good of the community is embedded in the DNA of the company, according the owners.
“One of the great things about running your own business is that you can make it a reflection of who you are and how you do things,” Gibbon said.
Over the years, Dynamite has partnered with a diverse array of community institutions. Their WNCW Blend, designed with input from their staff, helps raise money for the public radio station.
They’ve cultivated similar outreach programs with OpenDoors of Ashevile and Bounty & Soul among others. They were among many area organizations to support the recent construction of a playground at Black Mountain Primary School.
Beyond WNC, Dynamite prides itself on supporting the farmers who grow the organic coffee beans used to make its product.
"As we've grown as a business we've had more and more opportunities to travel and work closer with our producer partners," Gibbon said. "We've been to Honduras many times, we go once or twice a year. We've also been to Mexico, Peru and we spent a few weeks in Rwanda and Kenya in Africa."
Getting to know the people who grow the coffee on a personal level has been mutually beneficial, the owners said.
"Learning about their needs and what being successful means to them has helped us figure out what resources we might have to help them do that," Gibbon said.
As Dynamite continues to strengthen those international bonds with farmers, the business has grown into a local institution. Residents like Rick and Laura Donohoe, who have lived near the cafe since around 2010, struggle to imagine Black Mountain without it.
"It would be safe to say that in the last eight-and-a-half years we've lived here, at least one of us, has gone to Dynamite every single day unless we were gone on vacation," Laura said.
The Donohoes are among a large group of customers who frequent the cafe, Rick said.
"We've met a lot of friends since we've been going to Dynamite," he said. "In a lot of ways the place is like a community hangout."
It's more than just delicious coffee that keeps them coming back, Laura said.
"I love the place, I love that they've kept it small and friendly with no WiFi and a bunch of vinyl albums that you can look through and help spark up conversation with people around," she said. "But just getting to know Andy, Josh and Thomas, and their ethical approach to the business and their participation in fair trade and working with the farmers, you realize what an admirable thing it is that they do."
Giving consumers an "ethical option" for coffee definitely adds to Dynamite's appeal, Rick said.
"They treat the farmers in these other countries fairly and that matters," Rick said. "And it doesn't hurt that they make amazing coffee too."
While the smell from the building may bring people through the door, Dynamite's dedication to its craft and commitment to responsible business practices is what keeps them coming back, Laura added.
"It's great when something you love for one reason turns out to be wonderful for a whole other reason as well," she said.
The support shown by the Donohoes and countless other members of the local community has contributed in a major way to the success of Dynamite Roasting Co. over the past decade, the owners said.
"Black Mountain is where we want to be," Gibbon said. "There is a lot of joy in working and living in your community and interacting with the people in it every day."