People You Should Know: Garret & Carlee Caster, Farewell Coffee, Bend, OR
For the first interview in our series of “People You Should Know,” we sat down over a cup of coffee with Garret and Carlee Caster, Founders of Farewell Coffee, and learned about how they got started, what it’s like running a business with your spouse, and what advice they have for others looking to become a husband and wife duo…
Christine: First off I just want to learn a little bit more about you guys–where you're from, what you guys do for a living or what you did before coffee?
Garret: Well I grew up in Corvallis, we actually met in Monmouth, Oregon where we went to school. I was a student at the fire department there and getting my bachelor's in exercise science. We actually met when she wrecked her car into a bus of foreign exchange students. She was a patient, I was on the engine, luckily she was fine…everyone was fine, even the foreign exchange students, albeit probably pretty rattled. We had a class later together and got to know each other, then eventually started dating and we’ve been together ever since. Then eventually we moved back to the Valley, I took my first professional job as a firefighter at Eugene Fire and that’s kind of where the coffee stuff got started.
Carlee: I’m from Milton, which is outside of Tacoma, and lived there my whole life. I moved to college in 2008 and went there for 2 years and met Garrett. We both were in the same Exercise Science program and once we both graduated we moved to Sisters together. He worked at the Athletic Club and I did Physical Therapy aide jobs over the next four-iish years. I worked here in Bend at one of the clinics so Garret could go to Paramedic School and then moved to Eugene for his first fire job. Once we moved to Bend I kind of just quit working for other people and I started this little online baby business…like hand knit baby…I don't know how to describe it, but it was all hand made.
Jon: Did you make it all yourself?
Carlee: I made it all myself. I learned how to knit in college and then was doing adult hats and scarves and selling those on Etsy. But it gets expensive to buy something like that when somebody puts so much time and effort into it and buys the really nice yarn, so I thought, I need something smaller to make that’s not super expensive. So I made a bonnet for a friend who was expecting a baby and decided I'd put that in the shop and see how it did, and it just kind of blew up, and so I just started making bonnet after bonnet after bonnet!
Garret: It was still pretty early on in Instagram where you could still grow a big following.
Carlee: Yeah, there was no crazy algorithm or anything and so it was super easy and that's how I did a lot of my marketing. So I got off Etsy and just used Instagram as my marketing and had my own website and made the knit Bonnets and these little leather baby moccasins and sourced the nice kind of leather, vegetable tanned, you know just the most nicest!
Garret: That's a marketing campaign in itself “the most nicest!”
Carlee: But yeah, I’m still doing that on the side just not as full time anymore because the coffee business is more serious and the other stuff took a lot of time.
Garret: So this ties into the coffee because she built a template more or less of online, sales, and a website and learned how to do all of that
Carlee: Yeah, I learned how to do all of that prior to the coffee business so doing everything for the Farewell was pretty easy and straightforward.
Christine: So from firefighting and bonnets how did coffee come into play?
Garret: So there is one layer deeper to that. In the fire service caffeine is regularly celebrated and abused for many reasons. Out of utility but also there's a lot of bonding and therapy that happens around the firehouse dinner table, so coffee is a big part of that culture, in I would say a heavily male-dominated industry. That's the excuse to hang out with your friends and talk about life. There’s just a lot of life and culture happening around coffee. So I started to explore different types of coffee and started to get interested in it. Then one of the guys I work with started home roasting. He was a former chemistry teacher turned firefighter and then he started a small coffee business. He had this home set up–it was an air roaster–so a small contraption that blows hot air into a hopper, you dump the beans in, it simultaneously mixes and heats the beans. So he showed me some concepts of home roasting and commercial roasting and I started messing around with that, like using the old school popcorn poppers to roast coffee and mess around with different stuff he would give me.
When I ended up taking a job in Central Oregon, I was still trying to pursue my hobby of messing around with coffee and then we got to talking about Carlee’s business and how it was getting so busy, that the breakeven was hard, you know, time vs energy, so I was like, “I think we can roast coffee. It’s a good product that's relatively easy to sell and bond with people over, so maybe I'll take some commercial classes and learn how to roast on a larger scale.” So I went up to Seattle and learned how to roast at one of the coffee importers. They have a lab and do a lot of education. I did a couple specialty coffee roasting classes and then we just started leasing space and time with another little micro roaster in town and then started figuring it out as we went. It was a pretty steep learning curve just from like roasting larger batches, meeting deadlines, having enough inventory, and starting to learn the intricacies of your workflow– like ordering materials and goods and knowing your turn around. Everything we did was more or less like one bite at a time, like developing wholesale stuff for major grocery chains vs. smaller markets.
That’s kind of the story, just a love for being around other people and sharing stories and having the excuse or vessel to do that being coffee. The history and everything about coffee has always been kind of like a nerdy, interesting historical product but also day to day, I think it has some utility as far as caffeine and making people feel human, and it's a great way of being like, “Hey, what are you doing this afternoon? Let’s grab a cup of coffee and catch up.” I think I’ve always been a little bit in love with that communal aspect of, this excuse to share the human experience in life and connect with people…and it also makes shift work a little bit easier!
That's more or less the story of how we got to where we are now. Carlee’s definitely a lot more organized and more creative with a lot of things and has a better eye for style and branding and she took her template of what she learned from her business, and applied that to what we're doing. In the Pacific Northwest where there's so much good coffee, good beer, good wine, good fashion, there’s these people that are really into their things and it's all kind of one geographical place, the things that set us apart are we want to treat people right, we want to have branding that represents how we feel about coffee and what we enjoy, and we just want to roast coffee that we want to drink.
Carlee: And coffee that’s approachable. Coffee that’s appealing to a wide variety of drinkers, not just the third wave people.
In both taste and also how we represent our product. Because in all of those industries it’s really easy for there to be kind of a smarmy pretentiousness in any of those spaces and we didn’t want to contribute to that.
Jon: Do you mean in the beans themselves, like the flavor of the roast? What makes them more approachable?
Garret: More in the roast level. We don’t only want to do light roasts, which I thoroughly enjoy and would do that for all the coffees if I felt like everyone would enjoy that, but I think the fact of the matter is that a lot of people want something that’s familiar, they want something that feels comfortable, and that they recognize as “that’s coffee to me.” For that I think darker roasts are what most people want. They want something that’s hot, familiar, makes them feel like they're waking up in the morning, smells the way they know it to be. We want to make sure we’re getting good quality coffee that’s ethically sourced and roast it in a way that we still get to preserve the nuance of the flavor and the bean origins, but it’s also something that’s roasty with chocolatey qualities that most people associate with coffee. So we have our two mainstays, a blend of a medium and barely a dark roast that’s our go-to upscale restaurant coffee, something that doesn’t have a bunch of fruity, tart, exotic notes that would maybe turn them off to exploring coffee more. So we like to think we’re luring people in with our more familiar blends and then get them more aware of more speciality coffees that are lighter roasted and preserve more of those delicate flavors.
Jon: That’s super interesting, that’s kind of like our store specifically with our raw denim. We’re a lot of people's entry-level into raw denim. Their first pair might be Unbranded or Naked and Famous or something, and then from there they're like “I love this, now I want to explore the crazier stuff.”
Christine: But we want to be approachable so that someone who doesn't even know what raw denim is could find something that they love and then get to know the store, get to know the product mix and find something new and exciting to them.
Garret: Yeah, one thing I really like about your store is there’s all these makers of goods that are really passionate in their niche, like the raw denim and selvedge denim, there’s whole communities where they have their thrifts and their own meetups and they’re all trying to find this really cool, quality stuff, and I think that’s also sparked a lot of great handmade goods with super high quality, more ethically sourced materials.
Jon: Yeah, for sure. Where did you guys come up with the name? Did you guys name it and brand it all yourselves?
Garret: Yeah, we had an artist do the actual design but we had a very specific idea of what we wanted things to look like, how we wanted to be represented and Farewell we came to after a long list of names that just didn’t feel right.
Carlee: There was a lot of pressure. Garret was very pressured to get a name and I was like, we’re not going to rush into a name because it’s kind of a big deal, it’s your identity of the company. We wanted something that was Bend-ish. Bend was actually Farewell Bend originally and we thought, why not just call it Farewell Coffee.
Garret: The post office actually encouraged the town to shorten it’s name to make it easier for them.
Jon: I didn’t know that, that’s super interesting.
Christine: So, another similarity between our businesses that we wanted to chat about – you are a husband and wife team like us and we know first hand that comes with a lot of great things and a lot of challenges. I want to know, what’s most fun about being married to your business partner and also what’s most challenging?
Garret: I was terrified. I was like, this could not be great if it’s really stressful. It’s a voluntary thing that we’re placing on our relationship, which I was super nervous about.
Carlee: There’s definitely been heated discussions and arguments about different things because we each have our own ideas.
Garret: I think partly because the industry and the world I come from is very time and task oriented, I almost have a compulsion to make lists, get things done, and the more I can do the more satisfied I feel and Carlee’s not that way. So trying to find an initial balance of ordering, delegating, posting on social media, all these different things would be little riffs we had.
Carlee: He micro manages a little bit. That’s part of the “get things done.” I don’t think it’s intended to be micro managing but he’s asking “did you do this or did you do that,” where I have my own checklists in my brain. It’s like “Hey, I got it, just let me do my thing.”
Garret: She’s usually pretty on top of it. When I come off shift, I’m super out of the loop because I’m 100% all in on that job and then when I shift gears, it’s like “Oh man did we ever order this or get this or send that out?” She’s usually on top of it.
Christine: What do you think is most fun about being a husband and wife team?
Carlee: I just like having someone to do it with. I know that it wouldn’t be what it is if it were just me. I mean, I’m sure it would if it was just him, just because he’s so motivated, but for me I like to take things slow, I like my comfortable level of work, I don’t want to overdo it.
Garret: I feel like we have a pretty good ratio of things that didn’t go well to successes and every time you succeed or win together as a couple it’s just that much better because you’re sharing it with someone else. Luckily we’ve had a lot more of those than we’ve had oopsies or really stressful days. We’ve had our fair share, but most of the time it’s now stuff we’ve already dealt with to a degree and we can meter some of the risks we assume.
In the future we’ll need to have a shop, ideally our own roastery. While leasing space is super cost effective, out of ease and logistics, it’d be nice to have everything coming and going in our own space. That day will come as long as we keep plugging away at it, but I just think everytime our internet sales happen or we get a big order or someone comes to us out of the blue organically, that’s pretty fun. We joke, there’s a meme with a guy with a huge brick phone on a 90’s shoot just pumping his fist and saying business and that’s like our mantra everytime we’re doing well we’re like “Business!”. That part is super fun.
I already have a weird schedule with what I do normally that having the flexibility of owning and doing your own thing to some degree is really nice because when I get off shift, we can take care of a lot of orders together and we’re spending that time, even if it’s doing work stuff, we’re spending it together. I feel like that’s a pretty good trade, you know, if we were to do something else or if Carlee worked 9-5 that would spread our time out. I definitely have a little bit of a different view of life and time because of the nature of what I do for a living, it kind of confronts you acutely with how fragile life is and how valuable time is, so it’s nice being able to spend that how you want it more often than not, and with your person. That’s the best two things — being able to spend time together, and when we succeed it’s as a team and that's pretty rad.
Christine: From your experience working together what advice would you have for somebody getting into business with their significant other.
Garret: I don’t know if I feel qualified to really say much about that. I think having grace with your partner and maybe doing as much planning ahead of time to figure out who’s going to do what and how to maximize your individual strengths. I’m not good at tedious things or reading through paperwork, those things are like pulling teeth for me but I really like interacting with people. Filling bags, measuring, packaging, shipping, meticulous work, that to her seems therapeutic for her but to me it’s my worst nightmare.
Jon: I’m definitely not the paperwork person either but I would fill bags all day. I love to do brainless, tedious things.
Garret: She’ll turn on some music and just knock out a bunch of work, and I would rather cold call a grocery store and talk to their buyer, show up and meet with people. Having an idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are and trying to apply them as best you can to business. And then I think a lot of our success if you would call it that is we try our best to treat people right and do the right thing by people and stick to our word. If we say we’re going to deliver something we do our damndest to try and make sure that’s gonna happen. Because I think a lot of businesses are, I don’t want to say flakey but there’s different paces, different ethos and commitments to your engagements and for us we just want to be a reliable company and reliable in our product and how we treat people. We try to capitalize on the connections we make with customers and people in town and so far it’s served us well.
Christine: I love that. So what do you guys have coming up that you’re most excited about?
Carlee: Custom bags and merch are coming! Right now we have reams of stickers and we have to do the tin tie and the sticker, and then for retail we have a sticker with the roast date and UPC on the bottom so in total it’s about 4 different things that you have to put on the bag.
Garret: Sexiness of zero to other people other than us, but we’re like “Yes!” It’ll be so much more efficient and that’ll be sweet. We’ve been terrible at carrying merch, it’s great advertising, I really like having it, but we’ve been on the list to get our hats for like a year.
Carlee: We did a round and people loved them. We sold out and we tried to order more and with the pandemic and shortages of everything we haven’t been able to restock.
Garret: We’ll do some hoodies and shirts again this Fall which will feel good and then we’re just continuing to experiment with different coffees. We’ll have a new roast coming out in the next few months called Neon Moon, which will be kind of a brighter, funkier, lighter roast coffee for the more adventurous drinkers so we’re stoked about that.
And then just trying to capitalize on the things that we love. I like to get outdoors – I fish and hunt and I ski and snowboard and Carlee rides horses so we like to maximize time spent doing those things. Sometimes I’m sure that comes at the expense of some growth or time we could spend to really grow the business but I feel like longevity wise we have to make those things a part of our life and grow the business around that.
Christine: I need to be reminded of that everyday.
Garret: Well you guys also have a couple other factors that we don’t.
Christine: Oh those two humans we have?
Garret: Yeah that you support and take care of? Yeah. We’re just trying to figure things out as we go in an efficient way.
Christine: Where can people find you locally or outside of Bend?
Garret: Locally we’re at most of the grocery stores, Newport Market, Market of Choice, Food for Less, Winco. Found Natural Goods downtown which was one of our first accounts along with West Coast Provisions in NW Crossing, those two were our first retail spaces to give us a shot so we have a lot of love for both those places and it’s fun to be included in their adventures as well. Tumalo Farm Stand, Cara’s Kitchenware in Old Mill, they use our coffee to sample their machines. And then we’re in a bunch of markets and boutiques across the country that we’ve just happened onto through the internet. Our website is always slowly but steadily driving business from people all over, which is always exciting, like sending orders out to West Virginia or Arkansas.
Christine: That’s awesome. We’ll have to pick some up on our next grocery run. Well thank you so much for chatting with us and for being our models this month.
Garret: Absolutely. We were so thrilled because we’re longtime fans of your store and your story and it was a treat for us to be included. We felt very humbled and thankful to have an opportunity to collaborate and hang out.