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The Scoop; Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Roasters

March 2, 2016

From time to time, I plan to do profiles on the coffee roasters/brands that I get to feature and review here. Since Grimpeur Bros. was the first brand to be reviewed, it’s only fitting that Dan Manco of Grimpeur Bros. is the first profile. Keeping with the coffee theme, these profiles will be called The Scoop … so have a seat with your favorite cuppa and sip along. 

Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee Roasters sprouted from the minds of two “brothers in arms” in New York City. Avid cyclists and budding racers, with a penchant for the bean, who were not satisfied with the overall availability of premium coffees. Over time, the link between coffee and cycling made itself more and more obvious. At a time when large coffee chains were simultaneously killing the independent coffeehouses and creating demand for “something better”, the bros began hatching ideas in the early morning haze of race day start line ponderings.

I first met Dan Manco face to face at the CX National Championships in Boulder, CO while hunting desperately for a good cup of coffee at the race venue. That cold morning, I wandered into the Grimpeur Bros. pop-up shop and sampled my first cup. Dan was all smiles and the tent was filled with racers shivering in the cold, waiting for the coffee to warm them, and hopefully give them a little boost. I probably ventured into the tent a dozen times, at least. Each cup was always delicious, and each chat with Dan was always fun. If you follow the Grimpeur Bros. Instagram account, you’ve no doubt seen his big smile popping out from underneath his curled mustache.

One of the reasons Grimpeur Bros. is special to me personally, is because of the amount of support and giving back that is a part of the Grimpeur ethos. Dan supports events, teams, and individual riders on a constant basis. Just prior to this most recent CX World Championships, Grimpeur did a special roast to support JAM Fund rider Anthony Clark, raising funds to help Anthony with the costs of getting to Worlds. Why? Because Anthony is an emotional favorite of many folks who love US CX, and because Dan/ Grimpeur believe in the simple act of being nice.

After having the chance to sample the Grimpeur Leif Erikson as the first reviewed coffee here, I did some follow-up with Dan to get more of the story behind Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Roasters.

***

How was Grimpeur Bros. born?

It all started one Saturday morning at the start line in Prospect Park, Brooklyn for the spring series. 6:25am line up. I sucked on an espresso flavored gel thing and thought, “Man I’d rather have a doppio right now instead.” Looked around and saw everyone doing the same thing. I thought what if I could sell spro shots to racers instead? Race started and eventually I got spit out the back.

Did you consider just opening a mobile cafe instead? Why the decision to go straight to the beans?

O.K. Some nitty gritty – considered everything – opening a roastery, a mobile coffee truck. Even thought about opening a bike shop/coffee shop. But at the time – I didn’t have experience with any of those businesses and didn’t have the big upfront capital needed to fund something like that from scratch.

I’ve got a digital startup background (marketing, strategy, product, social) so my thought was to run Grimpeur Bros. like what at the time was called a “lean start up” and today is called an “evergreen company.” A company that grows organically and tests products and services, learns from the tests, and then builds on what works. Agile-centric. There are some interesting entrepreneurs and friends in the cycling world who are innovating with great success: Ten Speed Hero, HBStache, The Athletic, Mad Alchemy, to name a few.

I wanted to test the idea that serious cyclists – who are picky about their gear and happen to drink a ton of coffee – would be interested in great specialty coffee – not Starbucks or Dunkin or Peet’s – but truly great coffee on par with the roasters that I loved: Coava, Intelli, Heart, Ceremony, Madcap and Counter Culture. While there are other cycling-themed coffee shops and roasters, no one was focused on top shelf coffee – specialty coffee – and building an aspirational brand. We all want to be stronger cyclists and racers. And who wouldn’t want to be a better climber? Hence grimpeur.

There’s also a huge educational component that’s fun – opening up the experience that coffee doesn’t need to be dark roasted (i.e. burnt, overly bitter coffee) but in fact can be a wide open taste experience with endless variety…and more caffeine. Heh.

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I love serving a cup to someone new at our pop ups. When people reach for milk or sugar, I ask them, “Try it first black without anything added. Trust me.” And the “Wow” expressions I get from them when they taste a cup. “That’s really good, super smooth.” 20% will go ahead and add milk and/or sugar. But that 80% are like, “This is amazing. It’s not bitter. It has this incredible taste. I taste… Where can I get more?” Or when I pull shots at pop ups, I won’t do milk based drinks generally. Just straight up shots for speed and ease. Great spro should be able to stand on it’s own. At the 2014 Breck Epic, the European racers were freaking out over how good our spro was. “This isn’t like that Starbucks stuff. This is better than back home.” That was super rewarding.

So we started GrimpeurBros.com‘s roast-to-order online storefront because it was the most cost effective way for us to test our idea. And it gave us the flexibility to test and learn in real time sans a huge upfront investment. And we’ve learned a ton. Coffee, like all business, is tough. As a start-up? Well it’s not for the faint of heart.

But I kept thinking about it, talking about it to anyone that would listen (bike racers, coffee shop owners, etc.). Yes at the time there were other U.S. cycling related coffee brands (e.g. Jittery Joes) but no great specialty coffee company was of cycling and focused on cycling. This was pre-Intelli sponsoring series, pre-Rapha Tillie, etc.

What was the final tipping point in the decision process?

The idea just kept nagging at me and I had the luck of finding someone in Brooklyn who was open to working with the idea. We cupped 70 coffees and narrowed it down to 4 coffees whose taste profiles we liked. We launched with them – a medium roast espresso (9 Dub) plus 3 single origins and then added an insanely great Kenyan that fell into our laps (the original CX Racer). Today we roast 2 medium roast espressos year round (9 Dub & Dam Loop) plus 4-8 single origin coffees at any one time. Plus we roast in Brooklyn and Texas.

Also – I had no experience in the coffee biz. I’m a digital marketer/strategist/creative/startup guy. So I kept talking and networking trying to figure how to build something out of the inextricable link between coffee and cycling.

Kept talking to a ton of people and finally took the plunge in 2012 after I moved to Austin. Flew to Las Vegas for 24 hours, for Cross Vegas/Interbike, with a backpack full of samples sans a hotel room. Handed out samples & haven’t looked back since.

That’s the origins – I love bikes. I love bike racing. I love coffee. But most importantly, it’s the people and relationships that have been the absolute best part of Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee. We’re not massive but it’s growing organically and it’s loads of fun.

You’ve done a great job with the brand and the social media, as well as the strategic partnerships. Looking forward, what do you see as your next evolution? Do you plan to have a cafe/ bike shop? 

 THX! The next innovation … well we keep roasting great coffee. And partnering up with great companies. And we’ll keep experimenting with more smart marketing and pop ups – maybe more nationally. And we’ll keep supporting great athletes, teams and clubs because that’s who we are. I love racing cross. We love the cycling community (road, mtb, xc, cross) and we love supporting the people who make it RAD. And we’ll keep testing smart ideas.

What are your favorite things about cycling?

Oh man. Where do you start? The simple act of riding a bike. It’s perfection. Physically it’s fun. Mentally it clears my head and is so therapeutic (#BikeTherapy). The bike peeps. Overwhelming GREAT people. The camaraderie and community. The experience of it whether it’s a commute, chill ride, training ride or race.

What are your favorite coffees? From where?

It changes seasonally but I tend to favor Central/South American and African coffees – especially higher altitude coffees. Bourbon beans are my jam. Panamanian geishas too. It’s also changing in terms of farmers learning that certain growing and harvesting techniques can get them higher returns. In the past couple of years, Mexican, El Sal, Peruvian, Costa Rican produced coffees have improved dramatically.

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What would be your dream scenario in the future for Grimpeur Bros? 

Dream scenario? More sales growth…Ha. Retail presences, different products, more travel pop-ups, more partnerships, etc. We’ll see what we can organically grow into that is sustainable.

***

While Dan might not have any desire to become the next Starbucks, it’s awesome to see a good guy do good things and grow from it. Without a doubt, the grimpeur is happiest on the climbs, and it’s a great thought to think of Dan and Grimpeur Bros. climbing higher.

Tim

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