?UP North Roast has grown from one man's hobby to a thriving enterprise. The specialty coffee roasting business now is poised to open its doors in downtown Escanaba.
For several years UP North Roast
of Gladstone has been selling its fresh roasted beans and ground coffees to restaurants and retail stores throughout the Upper Peninsula and parts of Wisconsin, as well as filling individual orders by mail. Now the father and son business is preparing to open a retail shop
at 506 Ludington St. in Escanaba.
"We hope to open our doors in June or July," says Gladstone native Gary Cass, patriarch of this "all in the family" enterprise. The roastery at the site is in full swing, and business owners who sell or serve UP North Roast coffees are being invited in for a firsthand look at how the coffee beans are prepared.
The genesis of what would become UP North Roast began in 2009--with a sip. "My father was at a Bible study and had some better than average coffee," explains Jacob. "He asked how it was made, and the lady said her son roasted it in the oven. My dad was interested, so he investigated online what (methods) you can use to roast coffee. A popcorn popper was one of them, so we started out with a popcorn popper because it was easier and faster to use than an oven."
Gary's coffee roasting experiment quickly became his new hobby. The hobby took on a life of its own as Gary's family, friends, co-workers at NewPage, and fellow church members began asking to purchase his home-roasted beans. Jacob became intrigued by the roasting process, as well.
"Soon I was involved and learning the tricks of the trade," he says. Father and son began exploring the logistics of launching a business, and UP North Roast was born. "We are born Yoopers who can make professional-grade coffee," declares Jacob.
Roasting beans is both art and science. "You need to have a certain profile for roasting," says Jacob. "(It's) so much air to a certain number of degrees Fahrenheit over a certain amount of time. The key part is an ear for the 'cracking of the bean,' which means after it hits a certain temperature the beans start to expand and crack the outside of their shell. This stage is called light city roast. This is when you really have to start paying attention. Once this stage starts you only have about two or three minutes before it goes to the next stage, city roast, a medium-dark roast. At this stage the second crack begins. From the beginning to the end of the second crack, which lasts about a minute, you have three different roasts in between: full city plus, Vienna, and beginning of the French roast. When the second crack begins to fade away, you've reached a French roast and have a small amount of time until you reach an Italian roast, which is the last roast unless you want burned, charcoal-tasting coffee."
Every package of UP North Roast coffee includes a "Roasted on" date stamp. "No other coffee company will do this," Jacob says. The stamp assures buyers they are purchasing fresh, quality beans. Their coffee's other distinction, says Jacob, is the absence of a bitter aftertaste. "We do demos at stores and it really shocks people… They say, 'I always need to put creamer in my coffee, but with yours I no longer need to!'"
UP North Roast's menu includes organic Guatemalan, Costa Rican, Sumatra, Brazil, a house premium blend, and Jacob's favorite, Ethiopian. "It's got a nice light body to it, has a bold kick, and rich flavor notes."
Each package of UP North Roast also includes a tribute to the Cass family's faith. Jacob says, "We settled on saying Deo volente--shortened as D.V.--on all our packages. It's an old saying my father said, which means 'God willing' in Latin. Ever since that day God has been giving us the opportunities, and we've been doing the work. It's been blessing after blessing. I want to be able to cover the whole U.P., God willing."
The shop's business hours are still to be determined, but according to Jacob, "We plan to have afternoon hours, something like 11 a.m. till 5 p.m., so people can walk in on their lunch break or after work to pick up their specially roasted coffee."
Gary's pride in his son shines when he discusses the continuing growth of UP North Roast. "It was my hobby, but he's the one who made it a business."
Deb Pascoe of Marquette is a freelance writer and a peer recovery coach for Child and Family Services of the U.P. A former columnist for The Mining Journal, her book, "Life With a View ," a collection of her past columns, is available in area bookstores.