In a back alley warehouse on Olive Drive, right along a fence that borders the train tracks, with a guitar case against a wall, containers stacked on shelves and mason jars scattered everywhere, resides Pepper Peddler Coffee.
Pepper Peddler’s owner, Alex Roth, uses a bicycle powered coffee roaster, which he built himself, to make his product. He then delivers subscriptions in reused Kerr jars by bike every Thursday.
The Colorado native’s original business plan, in 2005, was to use the roaster to cook peppers.
“The health department didn’t know what to do with me [when I was making peppers],” he said. “So, I needed to come up with another product to use the roaster for.”
From 2005-06, he traveled around India, Canada, Panama and back to the United States by ship, working in search of alternative fuels. While on one of the ships, he saw a friend roasting coffee with a heat gun and the idea clicked for Roth to use coffee as his second product.
“Working 12 hours a day on a ship is sort of like prison,” Roth said. “But there’s a weird freedom to it; you get to think.”
Since 2008, he’s sold four types of coffee roasts: light, medium, special dark and blend. The beans are from Central America.
“They’re single origin and fair trade organic,” Roth said. “They’re from a high elevation, so they’re a harder, denser bean, chalked full of caffeine.”
He said, in total, he’s made over 20,000 pounds of coffee, all here in Davis.
“The model for my company is limited because it is a bike delivery company,” he said. “I do think other businesses in town should do bike delivery though. I mean, in Portland there was a place called Burlingame Pizza that delivered pizza by bike over hills, bridges and during rainy conditions. They had some constraints. It does get a little rainy here, but come on Davis! There are no other constraints.”
Roth’s employees include seven delivery guys who bike to deliver his product around town. He’s had 15 throughout the years and said he considers it a great first job, in which the kids get to call themselves professional cyclists
Melecio Estrella, a 17-year-old Da Vinci High School student, is head of delivery for the company. Estrella said he likes the job because of its laid-back nature.
“Right now, I’m 19 mentally,” Roth, a UC Davis alumnus, who majored in chemistry and geology during his undergraduate time and received a master’s degree in geology, said. “The delivery guys ask me to grow up.”
Roth is a part of various bands in Davis. He plays guitar for the West Nile Ramblers and mandolin for Mad Cow.
“It’s interesting because I’m very involved in the town, but I can barely afford to live here,” he said.
Roth is involved in other art forms in Davis.
“I have three cars that don’t work,” Roth said. “I use to restore old Volvos and recently I decided to drive one of them into a wall of pumpkins by the Yolo County landfill.”
He said the act was inspired by an artist named Andy Goldsworthy, who likes to create art projects that have never been done and will probably never be done again.
“I’ve already written at least three songs directly about this,” Roth said. “There was a lot of symbolism going on there – it [driving into the wall of pumpkins] was because of a girl.”
Although Roth said business dips in the summer, he still has some customers from day one of his business starting and that a lot of business has grown through his delivery guys telling friends of their families to buy from him. Mayor Joe Krovoza is among the subscribers.
A little over half of his bulk sales are to the Davis Food Co-op. He also sells to Monticello Seasonal Cuisine.
“Students really haven’t been that big of a [customer] base because they’re so transient,” he said. “We do more home delivery to other demographics. We also have a shit-ton of coffee at the Co-op.”
A friend of Roth’s coined the business’ name, when Roth told him about his idea to sell peppers, saying, “So, you’ll be the pepper peddler.”
“The name is almost misleading because I don’t sell peppers anymore,” Roth said. “But, I think keeping the name provides a quaint back story.”
He said Pepper Peddler grew over 50 percent in 2009 and about 50 percent in 2010, but that he still would like to set up other hubs and continue to have his company grow.
“I’d like to build another [roaster],” Roth said. “I’m very hands on and I’d like to keep modifying the current roaster too.”
Quarts sell for $13, while pint jars cost $7 each.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.