Brewed in a recession, Danny O’Neill wasn’t sure The Roasterie would sell a single cup of coffee, let alone percolate into an iconic Kansas City brand, the founder said as he reflected on the regional coffee titan’s 25th anniversary.
“The only idea I had was coffee,” O’Neill said of his decision to jump ship from corporate life in 1993 and start his own business. The entrepreneur took a leave of absence from his job and started roasting coffee in the basement of his Brookside home, he said.
“So I’m scared to death all day, everyday,” O’Neill said, recounting The Roasterie’s infancy. “I have $17,000 saved up, and I spent [most of] that on a roaster, about $1,000 on my basement to put the roaster there and then I have about $3,500 left and I spent $2,500 on our logo. So I’m down to nickels and pickles and no income — but, I’m knocking on doors all day, every day.”
Decades later, customers across the city and beyond are the ones knocking on The Roasterie’s door. It’s an ironic turn of events, O’Neill alluded. Watching the company thrive has been a blessing, he said.
“I took a bunch of Cold Brew Nitro to a Notre Dame game recently, and we’re just out there tailgating with a couple of buddies of mine … and then all of a sudden their kids and their kids’ friends show up and they’re like, ‘Oh my God! Cold Brew Nitro!’ and they start telling their stories [about drinking The Roasterie’s coffee],” O’Neill said, weaving the tale with a sly smile. “And I thought, ‘Oh, it feels so good.’”
In celebration of its success, The Roasterie is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a party at their factory cafe Saturday — a milestone O’Neill said reflects the culture of coffee and community in Kansas City.
“It’s really important to us to serve others — to be of service for others,” said O’Neill, who has served as a mentor to up-and-coming entrepreneurs in Kansas City as The Roasterie continued to take flight. He’s hopeful his experience could stoke someone else’s entrepreneurial fire the way another entrepreneur — albeit fictional — ignited his.
“My daughter and I watched Willy Wonka and I said, ‘You know what, honey? We’re gonna Willy Wonka our plant,’” O’Neill said. Soon after, the business invested in turning its Southwest Boulevard headquarters into an interactive factory store experience — complete with meaningful pieces of The Roasterie’s history.
Pure imagination will chart The Roasterie’s course over the next 25 years, O’Neill said.
Inventive thinking, adopting new technology as early as possible, and crafting a customer experience that goes beyond a single cup of coffee will allow The Roasterie brand to maintain its altitude even as new local coffee companies taxi the runway, he said.
“Somebody said something to the effect of, ‘You started this [Kansas City coffee trend] — I said ‘Oh, my God! I don’t think I started anything.’ Maybe I started The Roasterie — with a lot of help — but I feel like it’s probably similar to a lot of entrepreneurs,” he said. “The more entrepreneurs we have, the better.”