Breaking the Coffee Chain

He was doing cholesterol research at Children's Hospital. She was a molecular biologist at University Hospital. So, of course, the couple decided to buy a coffee shop. 

That's the career twist for Tony and Eileen Tausch, who have master's degrees from the University of Cincinnati. Now the science of coffee is their passion.

The husband-wife entrepreneurs run three coffee outlets in Cincinnati with an expanding wholesale business for their own roasted beans. Their shops include the Coffee Emporium on Erie Avenue in East Hyde Park, a bustling downtown location on Central Parkway and a coffee shop at Xavier University.

At a time when the economy is in the dumps and
Starbucks has closed hundreds of stores, the Tausch's are actually expanding their business. They just took over the former Noel's Plumbing warehouse at 12th and Walnut, a block north of their Central Parkway location in Over the Rhine. They plan to expand their roasting, baking, catering and coffee wholesale business with the 8,000 square foot location. 

It was a move that also pleased Over-the-Rhine boosters - one less abandoned building in the neighborhood. The Coffee Emporiums employ about 36 people and a few more hires are expected with the warehouse operation, Tausch says. 

It would seem coffee - or at least the way the Tausch's do business - is recession proof.
"Fine coffee is an affordable luxury," Tausch says. "We have had a big increase in sales over the last year at our downtown location - up 46 percent. Hyde Park is about 10 percent better." 

What's the secret to their success? Tausch attributes it to careful growth and a quality product. He also notes socializing is free. The boom at the downtown location came about when it was expanded a couple years ago to 4,000 square feet in a spacious, yet cozy, setting with sofa chairs and free Wi-Fi. 

"We are in a business where people can just come and hang out. The mayor and council people come in every day. Kroger is across the street. It can be a very impromptu meeting place to gather outside the office." 

Tausch is one of the few coffee shop owners in town roasting his own beans - as much as 2,000 pounds a week. That makes for a fresher, more interesting brew. And his employees adhere to Tausch's strict standards as to how coffee drinks are made. 

"Roasting our own, we can get the exact flavor profile we are looking for," he says. "We can micro-manage the roast. There is flavor based on where the coffee bean comes from. But how you bring that flavor out is in the roasting." 

Tausch unabashedly admits he is out to create what he calls coffee snobs. He thinks a carefully roasted bean and a well-brewed cup of java should be savored like a fine wine. The inscription on his cup sleeves reads: "There is a fine line between being a coffee aficionado and a coffee snob. Congratulations, you've just crossed that line." 

"I could talk coffee all day. I love it when we get people really into it. They want to know where the beans comes from, what part of the country, at what elevation it was grown, what the season was like, was there a lot of rain." 

Tausch's coffee jones began in the late '80's when he worked a part-time job at a mall homewares store that sold coffee beans. 

"I fell in love with their wall of coffee," he says. "I was fascinated trying coffees from around the world."

Tausch worked at several coffee shops, some who also did their own roasting. He learned the process. Then in 1996 he and his wife heard of an opportunity to buy the Hyde Park Coffee Emporium, the oldest coffee retailer in town, founded in 1973 by Gloria Martin and her daughter, Dee Tomlin. In 2002 Tausch opened the downtown location.

Tausch's pet peeve is that people too often settle for a mediocre brew. He actually traces it back to World War II when coffee rationing forced people to abandon the time honored two-tablespoons-of-coffee-per-cup formula knocking it down to one tablespoon. 

And then there is Starbucks. The ubiquitous chain is admired and shunned. It's credited for creating a market for expensively brewed coffee drinks where none existed. It's blamed for running mom and pop operators out of business and selling overpriced bland brews.

Tausch admires the company's marketing savvy, but not so much its product. "People walk down the street with a Starbucks cup and it's a status symbol. How they did it, I have no idea. It's an amazing success story."

But he says the joke among coffee snobs is that Starbucks doesn't sell coffee. It sells milk. 

"They don't put a lot of coffee in their drinks, but they do put a lot of milk. When you are looking for something more bold, you won't find it there."

Tausch does bold. He buys many of his beans directly from farmers wherever coffee is grown -Central America, Africa, India. He has been to Costa Rica to meet with growers. He would like to go to Uganda and Ethiopia, but the political situation can be troublesome.

"We get the highest quality beans we can find. It's the difference between going to the farmers' market or the big grocery. We are actually talking to the people who grow the beans, just like you can talk to the guy who grew the tomatoes." 

If it's milk you do want, Tausch buys exclusively from the Snowville Creamery in Pomeroy, Ohio. "Their claim to fame is it was in the cow yesterday. It's not homogenized, so it has a creamy taste. It's the kind of milk your grandparents grew up on. It is double the cost of other milks, but that's one more thing that separates us from Starbucks." 

The freshness issue is holding Tausch back from marketing his own roasted beans to grocery stores. He says he loses quality control when it sits on shelves for weeks, pointing out none of the beans sold in his stores are older than four days. 

Tausch is expanding the wholesale business for his roasted beans, currently selling to about a dozen accounts that include other coffee shops and cafes around Cincinnati. 

"We don't want to expand too fast - we'd like to open another coffee house. And we have just scratched the surface on the wholesale business. We would like to vertically integrate."

Tausch pauses when he uses the marketing term "vertically integrate," as if impressed with himself that he understands it.

"I never took a business class. Not one," he says with a laugh. "We jumped in all excited before we realized this was really a business. You have to pull back and say, 'We can't just keep spending money because you love it.'"

Indeed, Tausch sounds like a typical entrepreneur - in a business he loves, with its daily joys and headaches. As he puts it: "At times, I would sell the business for $1.75. Other days I wouldn't sell for $4 million. Well, OK, maybe $4 million." 

Photography by Scott Beseler
Coffee Emporium, Central Parkway
Tony Tausch

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