SAINT JOHN– Glen McLean first started drinking coffee the way many people do – out of necessity in university.
“We drank a lot of coffee. The social event was at mealtime, you’d gobble your meal down and then start drinking coffee. So, five, six, seven, eight cups of coffee,” says McLean. “It was brutal coffee, but I thought that was the norm.”
It wasn’t until after university, when he started working as a tour expert, that he realized that wasn’t the norm at all.
“I was one of those lucky people who got to travel quite regularly not only throughout Canada but China and also training to tour in Kenya,” he says. “So I got over to Kenya, and I tried this absolutely amazing brown liquid, Kenyan coffee.”
It was this trip that spurred McLean and his partner Randy Pedersen to create Java Moose, a Saint John-based coffee chain that now has four of its own locations and supplies coffee to 250 businesses and organizations.
“We just didn’t want to sell someone else’s coffee, we actually wanted to manufacture and roast our own, because we knew what the potential could be because we had tasted it in Kenya,” says McLean. “We found a manufacturer of coffee roasters in Idaho and they had a stellar reputation and were started to roast our own.”
Before opening their first location, McLean and Pederson received training down in Queens, New York through a company called Dallas Brothers, which was a big roaster in the New York City area.
“We did a number of courses there and then we went out west and did a number of courses there,” says McLean. “Then it just kept snowballing and we just grew very, very gradually every year.”
Java Moose opened its first location in McAllister Place in East Saint John in 1995. The location is still there today, along with two more in Uptown Saint John and one in the Kennebecasis Valley. Their coffee is roasted and packaged in a separate facility in the city.
But that’s only 50 per cent of Java Moose’s business. The company also supplies coffee to around 250 other businesses and organizations, including restaurants, schools, and stores.
“Generally what was happening before we arrived in the area is restaurants, retail establishments, hospitality businesses, they would simply call up someone in Ontario and say, ‘we need coffee.’ Basically, we were employing people in Ontario instead of employing people here,” says McLean. “Now we are employing people here and producing a quality product people are now purchasing from us.”
Java Moose started back in 1995 with three employees, now they have 40, ranging from packers, roasters, baristas and senior management.
The company also ships coffee online across Canada. They regular send orders to B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Quebec. The furthest account they have shipped to is Iqaluit. Almost all of their online customers are Saint Johners who now live away.
McLean says he sees wholesale as the fastest area of growth in the company.
“I don’t know where the economy of this province will go. We have to continually grow and growth through wholesale is fantastic,” he says. “Growth through retail, it’s incremental, but it’s always growing. But without larger masses of people coming to the province, that retail growth will be on a slower track than the wholesale growth.”
On the retail side, it’s not only slow growth in general, there is also a lot of competition. In Saint John, Java Moose is not only competing with bigger coffee chains like Starbucks, Second Cup and Tim Hortons, they are also competing with other smaller, independent shops that have opened. McLean says it’s Jave Moose’s determination to continuously improve and try new things that’s allowed them to survive and grow over the past 23 years.
“Competition is always going to be there. That competition will continually evolve as well. I don’t think we rest on our laurels. I think we’re constantly trying to improve. We have some hits. We have some misses,” says McLean.
“Our business model is a mashup of everything that we’ve seen in the last 20 years working for us. I don’t know [the competition’s] business. I know what our clients are asking for and wanting, what sells and what doesn’t sell and we’ll go from there. I have to spend the time worrying about my business and my staff to make it a fun and good business.”
When asked what Java Moose’s plans were for the future, McLean didn’t name a specific area of the business, instead, he named the city it’s based in.
“It’s to improve Saint John, I think that’s the key. We’re never going to get rich on this business. That’s not that point. I’m here to help Port Saint John create an environment for people coming off the cruise ships and saying ‘wow, what a great place this is.’ Or the bus tours coming out of the states and or Toronto and Montreal and they arrive here and they see a real cosmopolitan place,” he says. “That’s what we want to do. I think that’s our continual movement forward.”
McLean views this as a solid business strategy that won’t just help Java Moose, but other businesses in the city as well.
“Yes, that will translate over the long-term to increased revenues for us,” he says.
“We can’t keep letting people from away control our own destiny. We have to do that ourselves and just grab the bull by the horns and do it, or grab the moose by the horns and do it.”