Photo by Don Nelson
Meg and Dan Donohue picked the Methow Valley as the place where they wanted to start their coffee roasting business.

No detail is too small for local roaster celebrating its 10th anniversary

By Don Nelson

You’ll hear the word “intentionality” a lot if you spend any time talking with Dan and Meg Donohue about Blue Star Coffee Roasters, the company they launched in Twisp 10 years ago.

It’s an efficient way of summarizing how they go about their retail/wholesale coffee business. Every detail, every decision, every nuance of the operation, large or small, gets the same kind of intense review and consideration, with Blue Star’s fundamental principles in mind: a resolute commitment to quality, and the belief that every aspect of the business is important.

“We’re bootstrappers,” Meg Donohue said in a recent interview. “Being an entrepreneur, it’s so important to think carefully about everything you do.”

Thus, “intentional” decisions are the only kind the Donohues make.

The first such decision was where to start their business. After considering alternatives, “We wanted to be here, in this community,” Meg said. “We thought we had a good chance to succeed.”

The Donohues owned property in the valley for several years before they choose the Methow as their business location. Before purchasing their Texas Creek site, they had been frequent visitors from their home in Seattle — where Dan was head of coffee operations at a big roasting company.

Blue Star was started “on the cusp of the recession,” Meg said.

“We didn’t plan that,” she said, “and we feel really lucky to have thrived through it.”

Building capacity

It was important from the start to have an “exportable product,” Meg said of Blue Star’s small-batch, painstakingly sourced artisan coffee blends. Online sales — in the United States and beyond — are a big part of the business. Blue Star also is available at cafes, coffee shops and retail outlets around the region, including places like Metropolitan Markets in the Seattle area.

Even early on the Donohues “built capacity for success,” Meg said — meaning the ability to expand as appropriate.

The Donohues also wanted to have a role in developing the local economy and to be responsible employers. Blue Star has 10 employees and has trained many other valley residents, particularly baristas.

“We never wanted to be a mom-and-pop” — in other words, a two-person operation, Meg said. “It’s so much fun to work with our staff. They are talented, hard-working and vital to our success. We can’t overstate that.”

Blue Star’s roasting plant and coffee shop on Highway 20 at the outskirts of Twisp may not have initially seemed like an ideal site. But over the years, Meg said, “being on Highway 20 has been a great thing … it’s now a gathering spot. We love being a local hangout … that was our dream.”

The Donohues appreciate that the valley has a thriving arts culture, strong work ethic and effective intra-community connections. “It’s full-on engagement,” Meg said of living and working in the Methow. “People work really hard to be here.”

“The Methow Valley always shows up,” she said. “Everyone has a seat at the table.”

Blue Star is one of two major coffee roasters left in the valley, and both are thriving. The other is Lariat Coffee Roasters in Winthrop, which is also celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Each roaster has local followings, retail outlets and an aggressive online sales strategy. Another company, Dave Tate’s Methow Roasters in Carlton, went out of business several years ago.

Looking ahead

Blue Star is still evolving, Meg said. Its carefully chosen seasonal blends “give us the opportunity to showcase some special coffees … and give people “a taste of place.” Last year, Blue Star introduced new packaging. And Roast magazine recently named Blue Star a finalist (one of three in North America) for micro-roaster of the year in 2017 — in the first year they applied for the sought-after honor.

It all comes back to that word. “Intentionality is the hallmark of our business,” Meg said. “We’re just keeping our eye on the ball. Quality is where we compete. In 10 years, we’ve never lost a customer … they are everything to us. We share everything we know about coffee with our customers. We invest in their success.”

“It’s a relationship product,” she added. “We love to tell the story of coffee. It unites people, and we love that.”