A great deal of inspiration - in coffee, business and even his business's name - went into Robb Kashevarof's creation of Valentine Coffee Roasters on State Street.
The Wauwatosa West graduate, who later attended Marquette University, was a bit of a vagabond, traveling around Europe while playing professional soccer in Poland. He also has managed restaurants in Hawaii and Oregon. After returning to Milwaukee and the restaurant industry, Kashevarof met and started working with Joe Gilsdorf.
"Immediately Joe and I recognized that we were both craving a higher-quality Terrior-driven coffee - coffees that possessed character, nuance and a sense of place. Coffee without bitterness, coffee roasted to take advantage of the natural sweetness of the fruit," Kashevarof said.
Terroir coffee was their first inspiration. The coffee beans and roasting process produce coffees without bitterness, taking advantage of the natural sweetness of the fruit, he added.
Kashevarof said that when he and his wife, Virginia, started Valentine's two years ago, the predominant coffee roasting theory was the darker the better, adding "In our estimation, this method cooks all the finer points out of coffee; a more thoughtful approach to roasting could elevate the beans and preserve and highlight uniqueness, origin and quality."
Unique coffees roasted
The approach produces coffees, with Valentine's descriptions, including:
Sumatra Mandheling - Grown at more than 2,500 feet above sea level, this Sumatran has a balanced, full, earthy flavor, rich body and low acidity.
Bali Blue Moon - Bold, organic coffee beans cultivated by farmers in the volcanic highlands of the Indonesian island of Bali.
Bering Sea Blend - Valentine's signature blend consisting of specialty coffees from three continents. Aromas of dark chocolate and roasted hazelnut, spicy earthiness and hints of dark berry and red wine combine to make this crowd-pleasingly smooth and rich coffee.
None of his products - there are seven in all - are flavored, and few are blended. Kashevarof prefers to let the flavor of the beans come forward.
His next inspiration was naming the business after his grandfather, Valentine Kashevarof, an Aleut Indian.
Not long after starting the business, Gilsdorf officially joined Kashevarof at Valentine, working alongside the couple.
Kashevarof rents 1,500 square feet of production space at the Bartolotta headquarters at 60th and State streets.
While many coffee roasters either have cafes or aspire to, Kashevarof wants to let the business evolve. "Ultimately, our goal is to take the business where it is bound - much like we choose not to roast any bean to a degree where it is beyond its peak of quality, we are not rushing into cafes or the broader market. Time and commitment to quality will dictate where we go," he said.
Nearing a profit
Last August, Valentine was roasting about 300 pounds of coffee each week, and has recently surpassed the 500-pounds-per-week mark, significant in that this is the company's break-even mark. The company sells to local grocery stores and restaurants, including Sendik's on Oakland Avenue, One Way Café, Leff's Lucky Town, Groppi's Market and others.
While Kashevarof takes the business seriously, he's also relatively humble.
"We're really just two guys with food and wine backgrounds, and more than a little OCD, that are dedicated to producing and bringing to market the sweetest, tastiest, most expressive, most satisfying coffees possible ... and hopefully, someday, making a living for ourselves and our families," he said.
Robert Warde is a freelance business writer living in Wauwatosa. He has been a journalist for more than 27 years and a business journalist for the past 16 years. Reach him at email@example.com.