How It All Got Started:
Editor’s note: Justin Page posted this on Facebook a while back, but it reveals his early motivation and drive in his journey toward serving his customers the finest.
My earliest memories of Santa Lucia coffee company include roasting coffee in my basement with Lenora on my back and selling coffee on my front porch to neighbors and friends.
It is strange to think back on the early beginnings of something that has become such a staple in our everyday lives. I remember planning out the conceptual ideas in my journal and dreaming of one day owning my own coffee shop. How would I accomplish it. How much money would I need. Who would arrive to become customers. Etc. etc.
The year was 2002, I think I was 27 years old. I was brainstorming on a new venture. My window washing company was successful, but I wanted a way to connect with my community in fresh new ways, provide a trickle income or perhaps create jobs for others. Having no startup money I simply began roasting coffee in my basement, in the evenings, after work. I’d work into the wee hours of the morning, maybe stop to sip a glass of whiskey, then continue to dream, all while everyone slept.
Soon I outgrew the small devices I was using to roast, and because of lack of money, I had to develop and build bigger and bigger roasting machines to keep up. What may have been simple for some, was difficult for me, and I struggled to get the machines to loft and properly roast the batches. I experienced many, many failures and frustrations. One day, a customer arrived on my porch to thank me for the coffee and he offered to help.
Gary Klein had owned a bicycle manufacturing company and was brilliant at almost everything, especially metal fabrication. He spurred me on with enthusiasm and generosity. My brother Jared helped too. Eventually my newfound customers and friends helped encourage me to open the doors to Santa Lucia cafe’ in downtown Centralia. It all happened on April Fool’s Day 2006. We scrambled to get the store built out, and relied on dear friends and family to pull us through. … I just wanted to say — thanks for the memories everyone!
Santa Lucia Coffee Roasters Brew a Passion for Coffee
Obsession With the Coffee Bean Drives Justin Page Toward Perfection
By Andrew Kollar
For The Weekender
From an early age, Justin Page, owner of Santa Lucia Coffee in Centralia, has been obsessed with specialty coffee.
What began as a personal hobby in the basement of his home with a coffee bean roaster made from popcorn machine parts acquired from Goodwill quickly evolved into a lifestyle for Page.
“I came across some interesting solutions to roasting coffee that no one else would know about because I started in my basement and I didn’t get out there to learn what everybody else was doing in the industry,” Page said. “I basically came up with my own ideas for how coffee should be roasted.”
Page quickly outgrew the personal coffee operation, leading the entrepreneur to open the Italian-themed coffee bar in the heart of downtown Centralia.
His passion for coffee stems from his time spent in Seattle with his wife, Lucy, who attended the University of Washington. They both admit being exposed to quality coffee shops in Seattle before specialty coffee was a popular in most parts of the Pacific Northwest. That planted a bean seed that would later blossom into Santa Lucia Coffee.
“Justin is a visionary and he has the eye for all of the art, the lights and the color and the furniture, really just the entire feel of it,” Lucy said of the coffee shop.
Located on 202 South Tower Avenue sits the cozy espresso shop with a turntable spinning records behind the front counter, canvas and metal artwork displayed on the red, brick wall, couches to lounge on and Page’s self-engineered coffee roaster which sits humbly in the back. What you will not find is a drive-thru or people rushing to get from place to place. Instead customers are given a comfortable place to stop for a moment and enjoy craft coffee.
“You can’t build a community through a drive-thru,” Lucy said. “You’re getting some of the best coffee in the world, you should want to at least come in and talk with your barista and take some time to enjoy it.”
For the last 12 years, Page has travelled around the globe to build relationships directly with coffee farmers in countries including Guatemala and Columbia. He attributes those relationships to delivering the freshest possible coffee from a bean not commonly found in the immediate area. Page said he only uses beans rated at as a specialty coffee according to the standardised coffee ranking system known as the Q Grader System while most commonly known coffee brewers buy lower ranking beans. A low quality bean forces everyday coffee shops to over-roast their beans to compensate, creating an “indistinguishable flavor.”
The Q Grader System is based on a 100 point scale, anything above 80 is considered to be a “specialty coffee” while anything below is deemed as a “commodity.” Most coffee purchased at Santa Lucia rank in the high to mid-80s.
Specialty coffees are known to have a distinguishable taste with much higher notes than the average cup of Joe including hints of apricots and orange blossoms, according to Page. He said farmers and roasters are pushing the boundaries of quality coffee, meaning there has been no better time to be a coffee consumer.
Justin is adamant about treating his venders as well as he treats his customers with a belief that a sustainable partnership between farmers and retailers leads to better coffee for the consumer and better business in the long run.
“We have to reward the good farmers for doing good work and that’s where companies like ours come in,” Page said. “Instead of basing everything on the C Market Exchange and seeing how low we can go and how little we can pay our farmers, we are looking at what’s sustainable for farms and how do we keep them farming and doing good work.”
Page has been visiting the farms of his vendors for years and recently began to push the boundaries of his business with different distribution strategies, bringing high quality coffee into the homes of coffee connoisseurs.
Along with the ability for customers to purchase unground beans for home grinding and brewing at their shop, Page recently created a subscription program for his “Top 25 Customers” which is anticipated to reach about 300 customers as the customer base grows. The subscription program brings the coffee beans straight from coffee farming hubs Page visits every year on an expedited trip, transported through carry on luggage by Justin, his wife, Lucy and their three kids before being delivered to the subscribers’ doorsteps.
“We just had to carry 120 pounds of coffee on our backs wherever we went, sometimes up three or four flights of stairs and in taxi cabs and then we had to get it onto the airplane,” Page said. “That coffee was carried the entire way and in a way that is just not usually done and then we ship it to those 25 customers.”
Justin admits the program isn’t for every customer that walks in. It’s a niche market, only for some of the most die-hard coffee enthusiasts. Although the subscription program exists, it is only a small part of the business. Page said he is more focused on pointing coffee enthusiast of all levels to a coffee they will enjoy.
“Customers always ask me what is the best coffee,” Page said. “What’s best for me isn’t necessarily what’s going to be best for them and that is the most important challenge. It’s about helping them get what they want and that’s important because we don’t want a customer to have a bad experience with a good cup of coffee.”
Santa Lucia Coffee Roasters202 S. Tower Ave., CentraliaHours: Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.