A blue-collar mining town like Sudbury relies on a solid mug of java.
With coffee outlets on every busy corner and morning drive-through traffic that spills out onto city streets, some people close to Carole and Luc Roy thought the couple were nuts to start a coffee house.
Their European-style cafe concept for the Old Rock Roastery, featuring locally roasted, fair trade, organic coffee, was so intriguing, some Laurentian University business students made a case study out of them.
To Luc, it wasn't that big of a risk. If he learned one thing from his high-tech start-up days as a hard-charging executive in California's Silicon Valley, it's think big. Think American big.
"When you go get wine, how many varieties are there? There's millions of them. It's the same thing with coffee."
The nondescript downtown storefront they moved into across from the Sudbury Arena is a small business dynamo in the making. Since opening in January 2007, the St. Charles-raised couple have made good on their plans to build an eclectic coffee culture in the Nickel City.
They've created a popular and sophisticated community meeting place for students, business people, lawyers, paramedics and retirees to socialize and sample more than 70 varieties of coffee.
Creating the Old Rock was meticulously planned process that was first sketched out at the kitchen table years before.
After moving back to Sudbury after eight years in California, Carole was homesick for West Coast coffee where roasting shops are everywhere. So she started some experimental roasting on her own through trial and error, before settling on her California Blues blend.
When friends began buying coffee off her, the Roy's knew they were on to something.
The motivation behind the Old Rock was not only to share their passion for coffee but also reunite their family. For years, Luc had been working and living apart from Carole and his three children, either in San Jose or Toronto, commuting home every month or on weekends.
Their venture began as a field test, starting with a small table set up outside the downtown weekend farmers’ market where they sold bags of coffee with hand-written logos.
Initially people would wrinkle up their noses and keep on walking. "They looked at us for a month and figured we weren't going anywhere and decided to give us a chance," says Carole, a former nurse and mother of three children.
Gradually a few sales became repeat business and the momentum built after serving their coffee at a local French literacy festival. The response was so favourable, the Roy's started thinking seriously about going into business.
With five high tech start-ups under his belt, Luc assembled a team of consultants to sample Carole's product, and advised them on everything from the financials, to what roasting machinery to use, to what style of decor to choose.
"It's made the world of difference," says Luc.
A print and radio marketing blitz has gotten people in the door. Great tasting coffee roasted on-site and the relaxing surroundings has kept them coming back.
The secret to making a good cup of coffee, says Carole, begins with top quality Arabica beans imported through the fair trade certification chain.
Once people have tasted it, then they get it.
There are online sales through their website and the Old Rock brand has even gone wholesale with shelf space and servings at local markets, natural food stores, and cafes across northeastern Ontario.
They've also tapped into a more socially and environmentally-conscious crowd by introducing a bio-degradable cup, endorsed with the city's logo, that decomposes within two months.
Since opening the store in January, 2007, the business has enjoyed double-digit growth each quarter.
"That's what keeps us going and keeps us investing."
For Carole, it's all happened faster than she realized.
"I was going into this backward. This was something I wanted to do, but he (Luc) was very, very aggressive in business, and you either follow or sink, so I followed," she says, laughing.
"This is where we compliment each other," says Luc. "I can visualize and put plans together, but Carole is the Old Rock."
The couple have big plans beyond their little Minto Street store. A second, more plush, outlet opens this fall down the street in a downtown book store.
Though they have ambitious longterm plans of expanding their brand and creating a corporate headquarters in Sudbury, on the issue of franchising, a confident Luc is as tight-lipped as a mining supplier.
"Our goal is to open up a few more (stores in Sudbury) and that's going to be the foundation for the idea of the franchises.
"If it can work in Sudbury, I can bet you it’s going to work anywhere else."