What do you get when you combine a satellite dish, a stockpot, a broccoli steamer, and a car jack? The origins of Solar Roast Coffee, a Pueblo, Colorado–based outlet serving solar power–roasted coffee.
Initially more of a science project than a business concept, brothers Mike and David Hartkop founded Solar Roast in Oregon in 2004 after creating a one-pound roaster from the aforementioned spare parts. After three years of selling their beans online and to wholesale accounts, the brothers took their act to Colorado in 2007.
Today, with a thriving café, 60 wholesale clients, and two licensed offshoots—a Denver-based mobile unit that travels to special events and colleges, and a drive-thru hut run by one of the Hartkops’ former baristas—Solar Roast serves as a test case in accidental, though inspired, entrepreneurship.
Master roaster Mike Hartkop shares the concept’s intriguing history.
How did Solar Roast go from online sales in Oregon to a full-fledged café in Colorado?
Really, it was the lack of sun in Oregon. In early 2006, we dropped our full-time jobs and began searching for a sunnier place to roast coffee. I looked at a solar exposure map and found Pueblo, which is one of the nation’s sunniest spots not in Florida or the desert. We traveled there and found our shop on the first night.
How has the café evolved since its 2007 opening?
The big change has been the addition of food, something we didn’t fully understand how to navigate. In 2011, we convinced our wholesale client, Lisa Becker, to shut her café and join us at Solar Roast. She’s led our efforts to provide food matching the quality of our coffee. Her work has thrust us forward and allowed us to grow at a time when many restaurants around us have struggled.
What are the benefits of roasting with solar power?
By recirculating the air, we’re creating more steam, and that produces beans with a more rounded flavor. This means the sugars caramelize slower, which makes the flavors and finish smooth.
There’s no need to mask our coffee with vanilla or chocolate. People can enjoy our coffee for how flavorful it is.
What does the future hold for Solar Roast?
We’ve always doubled down, asking ourselves how we can be better. Now, after years of subsistence roasting and constantly needing to scale up, we’re hitting on all cylinders.
David’s designing a new roasting facility in an industrial zone that will give us storage and freight access. We also have the complete framework in place to sell franchises. That will allow other entrepreneurs to build on our success and pursue opportunities in other markets.