Evan Vega presides over the coffee roasting machine at Higher Grounds Roastery and Café in Gilbert. His quest: to provide fresh, roasted coffee that balances consistency, value and quality.
The self-taught roaster spends an average of 15 hours per week roasting, blending and prepping, working with eight to 10 green bean origins that are blended for the various beverage offerings.
“My time spent roasting depends the most on our weekly consumption rates. Since we sell coffee by the cup, but also offer retail and wholesale bags of pounds, this rate can vary wildly based on demand,” Vega said.
The casual, industrial-chic venue offers coffee and hearty breakfast and lunch fare. Because it seats just 28, including in the pet-friendly patio, online ordering is also offered.
HG Roastery sells more than 200 cups of coffee daily, both hot and cold brews. Despite the customer service consuming a lot of time, it’s important to keep the coffee as fresh as possible. Hence, Vega roasts coffee three to four times a week, mostly roasting in the evenings after the doors are closed for the day.
Vega’s mom, Dianna Cameron, established the business in 2013, drawing from her experience in her hometown in Orange County, California, where her family ran a sandwich shop, as well as her formal culinary education.
“I had gone to culinary school and then earned a degree in hospitality management seven years earlier and knew it was time. Working in the corporate world left me wanting something different,” she said.
Cameron persuaded her sons, Evan and Shane, to join her. Dani Kahn, Vega’s wife, also joined in.
“I am very glad I made the decision to start my own business and have had a lot of ups and downs, but would do it again in a heartbeat,” Cameron said.
With Cameron’s help, Vega and Kahn have opened another location in Superstition Ranch Farmers Market in Apache Junction.
Besides the family members, the Gilbert store employs about 10 staffers, mostly students, while the Apache Junction store employs just two.
“I call myself the coffee addict,” said Kahn, who helps train the baristas, bakes the breakfast pastries and handles public relations and marketing, which includes maintaining its social media accounts. “It’s over 40 hours, especially now with the second shop opening.”
In its ninth year, a coffee shop that has withstood the test of time must have special qualities to it.
“I think, part of the specialness of our coffee shop is that we locally roast our coffee,” Kahn said. “Another part of our draw is I believe that people like the family atmosphere.”
Cameron works six days a week, cooking and interacting with her guests, which she deems “extremely important.”
“I love the early mornings as I am able to chat with regulars a bit more than later. I am currently the full-time cook. We cannot seem to find anyone who wants to cook right now,” she said.
Running a small business is challenging. Adequate and qualified staffing is one of the main difficulties.
“We don’t really have entry-level positions as each position requires individuals that can work both independently and as a team but also need to have the ability to multitask. We get a lot of people that want to come work with us having never had a job before and it’s pretty intimidating,” Cameron said. “It’s not to say we haven’t hired anyone with no experience but a lot of them do not tend to last.”
“It is probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” Kahn conceded.
To her, quality control is another reason for the challenge.
“In that sense, the reason why it’s so challenging is because it’s a product that we all can be proud of. The family can agree that we really like to have ownership over what we produce for our community and what we can give to people,” Kahn said.
The roastery obtains Fair Trade coffee beans from the Southern Hemisphere’s bean belt countries such as Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, India and Indonesia.
“We look for good batches and get large bags shipped in from either the farms or from other green bean distributors that are in the area,” Kahn said.
Then, Vega takes over.
“Roasting is a practice that I would say can be easy to learn, but difficult to master,” he said. “Similar to baking, temperature control will determine how well the roaster’s heat is distributed throughout each bean. It takes some trial and error to determine what the best heat application and airflow is for each variable.”
Higher Grounds Roastery and Café is located at 2556 S. Val Vista Drive.