Roasters Series #1 - Matt Toomey, Founder of Boomtown Coffee Roasters
Interview with Matt Toomey, Boomtown Coffee Roasters
Article by Stacy Wright
Photos by Chris Porto
Matt Toomey is the founder of the successful Boomtown Coffee Roasters and a prominent presence of the coffee community in Houston. Within Matt’s journey through various jobs in service, coffee, and teaching came the idea of Boomtown Coffee, which opened in 2011. More recently, Boomtown has acquired the Downtown spot of the late Honeymoon Cafe and transformed it into it’’s second location. Matt has spent many years in the coffee industry and was happy to answer some questions and share some of his experiences with us.
Matt, you have competed in various coffee competitions; What all have you competed in and what’s the best you’ve ever thought you’ve done?
My first glimpse into the competition world was in the Ultimate Barista Challenge in 2009. It was comprised of 4 categories; Latte Art, Espresso Frappe, Espresso Cocktails and Best of Brew. I competed in the frappe and the brewing category. I remember wearing this very stiff uniform when I went on to perform because I took it so seriously. It was a lot of fun and a bunch of people that are still in Houston coffee were there and competing. I didn’t really go back into competition until after I started Boomtown. I became active in the SCAA this time and I competed in Cup Tasters three times and Roasters once.
The best I ever felt I personally did was when I took 10th place in the Roasters competition. I used Mujeres Colombiana, a coffee that was produced entirely by women. Mujeres Colombiana was a great coffee but when you compared it to the other competitor’s coffees, it was probably the least paid-for by pound and maybe not as exciting as others. I was proud of myself for using a coffee that was not something considered to be ‘fancy’, and it meant something more to me than just the ability to pay a bunch of money for it. The ability to bring out the best in that coffee and then articulate what you are tasting is a true testament to your skills.
I got very emotional during my presentation because it was so important to me. Being able to share the stories of the women who were involved in the process was something that I felt I accomplished at that competition.
Competitions help with things like sharpening your skills, making valuable connections, promoting your business, and various other areas. How do these competitions help you?
It is less about recognition and more about affirmation. We all strive to succeed at what we do, and this industry is no exception. Competition is a great way to get a better understanding of information and of the community. It helps people feel a little more confident and in command of their craft, as well as demystifying some information that is held half sacred by some. Everyone gets burnt out in their day-to-day, but when they return from competitions they come back recharged and with a clear perspective. Competition helps you tap into that mother source and reignite your passion.
What do you think we need most in terms of changing in the coffee industry?
Most importantly I’d like to see more diversity in shops from minority communities. I want to see more people working in coffee who aren’t from a certain segment of society and the presence of cultures that aren’t known for making specialty coffee.
Another change should be easier access to educational opportunities. If you consider the interdisciplinary nature of coffee you’ll see that it can be used to study so many things. Commerce, botany, cultures, geography, agronomy, horticulture; it’s all related. You can learn about coffee from every angle and not just a cafe standpoint. If there were a better standard curriculum in place it could give professionals a better outlet for teaching.
What advice do you have to give to people starting their own new coffee shops and roasteries?
I like the entrepreneur spirit in people and when people think outside the box. There’s no one right way to be successful. Whichever direction you decide to go, don’t be afraid to delegate. You have to be able to step away and not have all of the responsibility fall just on one person. You have to trust that you have attracted like-minded and honest people to your staff. When you commit to something it shows and the more you put forth the more you’ll get back.
There are different strategies for opening shops and roasteries because those are two very different businesses. When opening a coffee shop my tips are to be present and to know what exactly you want out of it. You have to love what you’re doing because cafes take a lot of time and financial resources to open and run.
Roasting is a whole different animal and it is a much more difficult path. It can really help you a lot if there is a cafe willing to showcase your coffees. If not it will be more difficult to get exposure for your brand. Starting a roastery can be less expensive than starting a shop but only if you put in the time and hard work. I did it, I roasted for very long days on a very small roaster. It is difficult but not impossible.
Are you conscious of diversity while hiring new employees? How does that look like in your company culture?
I am, and we are totally equal opportunity. I am highly supportive of the presence of women in the industry. The focus isn’t just on women, this earth is so diverse and coffee shops are these little micro-chasms of the larger picture. To shut any doors on an individual for superficial reasons is not supported here. Our cafes are community spaces and we want to ensure that they are welcoming to all.
Networking is an important part of owning a business. Do you have any strategies for effective networking?
Be present. Just showing up is a huge deal. That’s true for everything. Be present and mindful of others. I’m not a business strategist, I just want to connect with people. When I give myself and put forth my energy to something like the coffee industry, the reciprocation is the connection. I believe in making these real meaningful connections and most of the people I’ve met in the industry seem to operate similarly.
You have kids! What is it like to be a parent and a business owner?
It’s awesome! It does get a bit hard to choose where you’re going to spend your time. In a sense, the shops are my babies too but I have an actual baby at home I need to get back to. Ultimately, I have to trust my staff to watch my baby (Boomtown, that is). It’s important to trust your staff and I have fully capable, consciousness people that I trust to take care of Boomtown while I’m away.
There’s a misconception about the coffee industry and people ask, “When are you going to get a grown-up job and have kids?”. This is a career and like any other career, people have lives and families. I don’t know that I’d ever want to work in someone else’s definition of a grown-up job. The environment that you work in offers something that a paycheck can’t give you.
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