Koan Goedman, the owner of Huckleberry Roasters, and Jason Farrar, co-founder of Commonwealth Coffee, merged their two companies last year, but only recently made the change public — in the midst of the pandemic. Although the two had been slowly rolling out the changes from the merger, the coronavirus crisis pushed them get things done more quickly than they'd anticipated; they made the announcement to their customers over social media in April.
Back in October 2019, Goedman and Farrar decided to combine forces after discussing it on and off for two years. "Every time that there was a consolidation in the beer industry or small manufacturing, we'd exchange a text," Goedman recalls. "This stuff is happening, and it’s really only a matter of time before we start seeing it in the coffee world. It was certainly happening with some of the big players...and it made sense for us to really dive into it."
For Farrar, who had owned and operated Commonwealth Coffee in Park Hill since 2015, merging with Huckleberry made sense. "[Koan and I] both love business, but different aspects of business," says Farrar. "For the past thirteen years, my background has been warehouse operations and development with wholesale customers, which is why I felt comfortable starting a coffee business back in 2013. Koan is a retail visionary. He’s really good at directing consumer business retail and business operations."
"It was a good fit," says Goedman, whose original business partner, Mark Mann, moved to Chicago, leaving Goedman running things on his own. Because he and Farrar aligned well in terms of business culture, brand identity and values, eight to ten weeks in, they were feeling solid and confident in the merge. Ultimately, it allowed them to build a stronger, tighter business that added stability over the past two months of uncertainty.
"We gained a ton of efficiencies simply by sort of smashing operations together: rent, labor, green buying efficiencies that on paper made the merger entity more profitable," Goedman adds.
There's also an emotional, personal connection between the two partners. "Neither of us are hyper-traditional business owners," Huckleberry's owner continues. "We make so many decisions based on 'How does it feel?'" After the merge, the two focused on expanding their maintenance tech program and wholesale support, which resulted in more revenue.
"It was going really well," says Goedman. "We had pretty big expansion plans [in early 2020]. We have to sign one more document on the lease for a new space, and had just signed for a cold-brew production facility. And then the middle of March came, and to some degree that stuff is at least paused. All of our focus went to, 'Okay, what is the reality that we’re facing, and what impossibly difficult decisions do we have to make right now to get to the other side of this thing?'"
Those decisions have come up fast and furious on an ever-changing level since the pandemic hit Denver. "We have convictions and principles, and we're committed to trying to live those out — even in the midst of a crisis," says Goedman. In just 36 hours, the partners lost 80 percent of their revenue and laid off almost as much of their workforce. Since then, they've gradually reopened their cafes, starting with limited hours at the original Huckleberry, at 4301 Pecos Street, and have been able to hire back some of their staff.
The forecast still isn't clear, but both Goedman and Farrar agree that they're happy to not have to go through it alone. Instead, they can rely on each other to make the difficult decisions together and hope that's enough to ensure that Huckleberry remains a force in Denver's craft-coffee scene.
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