January 21, 2020

Planning Your New Roastery Site: A Checklist


There’s a lot to consider when you start or expand a coffee roastery: which coffees to stock, how to attract customers, pricing, marketing, hiring employees… and then there’s building the roastery. 

A well planned roastery can help you maximize your resources, ensuring efficient use of your space, time, and energy. A poorly planned one, on the other hand, can slow down your workflow, cause health and safety issues, and leave you with insufficient space for all the things you need. It can end up costing you time and money. 

The last thing you want is to be so focused on fixing site planning issues that you are unable to dedicate time and attention to improving your sales, sampling coffees, and refining roast profiles.

To find out more about site planning for the roastery, I spoke to Ryan Karatimus, President of Usonian Systems, which provides expert advice and specialized equipment to coffee roasters and cafés across North America, as well as several roasters that he works with. Ryan’s company often supports roasters in planning and setting up their roasteries, meaning that he has plenty of experience in this area. Here’s what I learned.

Lee este artículo en español Lo Que Debes Tener en Cuenta al Planificar tu Nueva Tostaduría

Freshly roasted beans. Credit: Meklit Mersha

Understand Your Goals

Your site layout should reflect your business goals, whether that’s quality, volume, expansion, or any other objective. Knowing your company’s objectives, mission, and financials over the short and long term will make it easier to select and build the right site.

Candice Madison is Director of Roasting at The Crown: Royal Cupping Lab & Tasting Room. “If you don’t know and can’t convey what your project vision is clearly and definitively, how can you expect those who you need to lead or investors/collaborators whom you need to answer to, to understand the end goal and why they should even jump aboard your ship?” she asks.

“The easiest place to start with vision planning is going back to the ‘W’ questions – who, what, and why,” she continues. “The where and the how should be answered after you can answer those.”

Here’s what she suggests you begin with: 

  • Why are you starting a roastery? What is your objective: quality, volume, enabling your existing retail business to save money by cutting down on costs?
  • Who are your customers?
  • What is your end product? Start by working out its use – retail, wholesale, private label, offices, etc. – and from there, work out what you need to be selling. 

It’s only once your vision is outlined that you can start planning the more practical aspects. 

You might also like Practical Tips For Quality Control in The Coffee Roastery

A new roaster is ready for installation as part of outfitting a coffee roastery. Credit: Usonian Systems

Create a Site-Planning Checklist

Now it’s time to look at the finer details. Create a checklist that you can use to direct your site planning. Make sure you can tick off the following points.

  • Roasting Volume

Ryan tells me, “A necessary starting point [for site planning] is knowing your anticipated roast volume, as well as your projections. Most growing roasting companies will have a pretty good idea of this number. For a start-up, this can be tricky, but it is good to be realistically optimistic.” 

This will determine all other factors: equipment, space, workflow, and more. While it can be challenging to predict this, it will also be important for your business plan and any funding bids. Market research should feature in your calculations, and you should be realistic about your capabilities and examine how much risk you are willing to take on.

Coffee beans cool after roasting. Credit: Neil Soque

  • Location 

Your site location will depend on a multitude of things, including your budget, business projections, branding, and legal requirements. Ryan recommends beginning by looking into the zoning, local codes, and restrictions. You may need to apply for a change of use of the building. 

Don’t see local government as just red tape enforcers, however. Ryan adds, “Usually, your local chamber of commerce, business improvement committee, or local leaders will have some great ideas and can sometimes help with tax credits or other subsidies.”

Depending on the country and state you’re operating in, you’ll have to adhere to different regulations. Make sure you know everything you need to do. Candice says, “Who are the specific agencies (and their contact details) you will need to coordinate with to get [building permits]? Consider health inspections and EPA and FDA requirements. Will your site meet the air-quality standards of your municipality (will you need to budget for an afterburner, or will you need to change your site location entirely?). 

“If you’re considering roasting organic coffee and labeling it as such, your facility will need to be up to code in order to do so. Throw into the mix food-safety standards required of your plant by FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act). Do you have a food safety plan? What about a hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) plan?”

Organizing this requires time and perhaps also an investment in equipment or processes. Build this into your plan and budget accordingly.

A partly outfitted roastery. Credit: Usonian Systems

  • Size & Space

You don’t want to put all this effort into building a roastery only to outgrow it within a couple of years. Ryan recommends considering your growth projection when selecting a site. Will you need to move locations if you double or triple your production volume – or do you have space for more roasters instead? Also, do you ever plan to have a retail storefront, and if so, do you want it to be at the same location?

Candice says, “Will your green coffee storage be on-site? If so, how much storage will you need (think future planning!)? Will you need to separate this storage from other goods? 

“Think about whether or not you will be manipulating bags manually or automatically, i.e. silos or shelving. If using machinery, such as forklifts or automated green coffee or roasted coffee handling systems (pretty much guaranteed), have you considered ceiling height, floor (and wall and ceiling) strength (after all, this is heavy machinery we’re talking about)?”

You also need space for quality control. Candice says, “If you’re roasting, you should probably be cupping and possibly checking the green coffee metrics of received shipments, and you’ll need space and equipment to do just that.” 

Where will your cupping table and assorted equipment go? What about your green bean sampling and testing kits? 

Utilities (more on that to come) will determine where your roaster sits, but you should also pay attention to workflow within the roastery. Plot the route that your coffee will take. Think about where your employees need to go and where from. Is the space going to facilitate their work, or force them to dodge each other in cramped spaces while there’s a bit empty corner not really being used?

“You will also need to think about distribution channels, ease of access, and safety of the site location for employees and customers alike,” says Candice. “What about traffic flow; will it be easy to navigate inbound and outbound shipments? Parking and vehicle bays should also be considered for customers and employees alike.”

Read more in How to Design Your Coffee Roaster For Maximum Efficiency

  • Utilities

Utilities are often not considered early enough in the planning process. However, poor utility planning will affect the costs of installation and the day-to-day running of your business. “Running hundreds of feet of gas line is costly, and can have an effect on your roasters performance,” says Ryan. 

“Where will your roaster exhaust?” he asks. “Not all roasters can exhaust out a wall, or may not be able to go straight up due to obstacles. Any time you increase the length of venting, you increase cost, and decrease the efficiency of your roaster.” 

Make sure to include installation in your budget. Ryan warns, “Keep in mind, you may need an architect, engineer (roasting equipment is heavy, and some buildings are old and may need to be retrofitted), an interior designer, and tradespeople to install utilities. One thing we often see forgotten in planning is planning for the installation and related costs of equipment, including freight.”

A SOVDA precision fill machine installed in a partly outfitted roastery. Credit: Usonian Systems

  • Equipment

Patrick Maloney, Owner and President of Blue Fire Coffee Roasters, Inc., says, “The single most important thing a prospective owner will do in setting up a roaster is the choice of a coffee roaster.” 

He says that it can be tempting to make the decision based on price, but “in his experience, [this] always proves short-sighted”. Instead, he recommends asking “1. Who are my customers/to whom will I sell my brand? and 2. what is the best roaster and setup that will bring this to fruition?”

Ryan suggests thinking about the future. “Do you get a small roaster to outgrow, or a large roaster to grow into?” he asks. 

However, the roaster isn’t the only piece of equipment you’ll need to consider. Will you need an afterburner? What about the destoner or loading equipment? And have you thought about packaging equipment? Will you need blending tables, grinders, fractional packaging machines, and a weigh-and-fill machine? 

Candice adds that you might also need to invest in equipment based on health and safety requirements, both in terms of air quality and noise. 

A coffee roaster ready for installation. Credit: Usonian Systems

Use All The Help Available to You

Starting a roastery isn’t easy. You’ll likely need to involve an array of experts, from interior designers to architects. Missing just one step in the process could lead to incurred costs and time wasted. Whether you are going it on your own or using a company such as Usonian Systems to help you build your roastery, take the time to speak to experts. From coffee consultants to local government advisors and experienced roasters who can advise on business growth, their help will guide you in the right direction.

“Remember that coffee is a great industry and most people want to be helpful,” says Patrick. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help… Things work out when you surround yourself with good people.” 

Enjoyed this? Read Creating a Safe & Healthy Coffee Roastery

Written by Sunghee Tark. Feature photo credit: Birch Coffee

Please note: This article has been sponsored by Usonian Systems.  

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