K9 Officer to Coffee Connoisseur: How to Build an Organic Coffee Empire
Stride: Serina, tell us a bit about yourself?
Serina: I’m from New Hampshire, and I used to be an accountant. One day, I went on a ride-along with a police officer, and decided that was my next step. As an officer, I found I needed a way to relax from my duties (I overused my shoulder as a K9 officer - sometimes you have to throw a big dog over a fence!) and that’s when I started coffee roasting. I became very passionate about both.
Stride: When did you realize you had something with the coffee passion?
Serina: Friends began buying my coffee, and then a coffee shop put in an order. I thought Huh, I might have something here. So I formed Dublin Roasters Coffee. The part-time roasting job just kept growing, and I started receiving wholesale accounts and mail orders. It really took off, and I found myself with two full-time jobs [laughs].
Stride: How did you juggle both jobs?
Serina: I ended up taking a sabbatical from police work (for one year) to give this developing career a shot. During that year, Dublin skyrocketed. I opened my first cafe (which has won the “best coffeehouse in Frederick” two years in a row). Now I’m planning out next steps – I may buy a coffee farm in Costa Rica and go full circle with the process of growing, roasting, and selling.
Stride: What was the biggest hurdle in moving coffee roasting from a hobby into a full time career?
Serina: Definitely learning how to use my hobby income as my primary income. I had to learn to live on less. For example, I haven’t had health insurance for the past 6 years – it felt financially out of reach until I found Stride.
Stride: How do you differentiate yourself in the crowded coffee industry?
Serina: Buying fairtrade and organic became my niche early on. I learned that buying coffee beans from small, family farms really yields a better cup of coffee, because they take the time to find the best beans. Since I buy from them, these small coffee families can now afford health insurance and put their kids in school. And buying from them gives me a better story; there’s love behind the beans. My customers are willing to pay a little more to get coffee that is actually helping somebody.
Stride: In addition to getting an awesome cup of coffee, it probably helps your customers feel really good about where their dollar is going?
Serina: Yes, and I’ve created a whole business model on that. I have a 4,000-foot facility as my warehouse. Inside it is a community center, and on any given day there are language clubs, meet-up groups, teachers associations, real estate companies meeting there. I offer the best coffee, but it's become a community meeting place too – no one is ever unhappy here.
Stride: Was that your intention - to create a community like that - or is it something that just happened over time?
Serina: It actually just happened over time. When I was retiring as a police officer, I didn’t really want to be around people. I never intended to open a coffee shop, but people kept coming in to taste the coffee before they bought it, so eventually I had to create a small cafe. I didn’t understand it at the time, but the coffee shop was healing for me. It allowed me to gradually rejoin society and not look at people as a threat. I opened up and started becoming who I was before being an officer. The shop really helped me find peace.
Stride: Do you have any funny or interesting experiences from the shop?
Serina: I actually policed in the same community where my coffee shop is now, and I had a lot of stress opening the shop, since I had arrested a lot of people! As a police officer, I showed everybody respect, no matter why I had to lock them up. That really helps now, because I never know who is going to walk through my door. I’ll see familiar folks, and I never know if I locked them up or served them coffee.
Stride: What’s your favorite thing about being self employed?
Serina: I love that when I do the slightest thing it really affects the bottom line, whether it’s a new display or a post on Facebook. What I do immediately causes some type of effect, good or bad. As a police officer, I couldn’t change anything in society. But when you run your own business the smallest things create change.
Stride: How has becoming a Stride Health member helped you with health care?
Serina: My favorite part is the customer service. I feel like if I had any question at all you would answer it; I know I won’t be left out there as a number. The really cool low rate was also a plus, and I didn’t have to switch doctors! I’ve had the same doctor my entire police career, and I didn’t have to make any sacrifices at all.
Stride: We’re so happy to hear that - we pride ourselves on our support team. What is your biggest health concern for America?
Serina: My biggest health concern is that people are over-medicated. I’m seeing it in the folks that come into my cafe. For example, if their child is anxious, the young parents are putting them on drugs. People are so quick to do that, rather than getting them out and running them around. It’s super scary to me.
Images courtesy of Serina Roy and Mallie Rydzik]