Bean Box is coming up on its one-year anniversary in Capitol Hill, spreading the good word about Seattle’s coffee culture to customers across the country.
Cofounders Matthew Berk and Ryan Fritzky started Bean Box in Fremont 2 1/2 years ago, with just four roasters signed on. Berk said they had to become more selective when they reached 20.
Berk said they do get sent beans from roasters across the country, but Bean Box is only focused on Seattle-area product. Velton’s Coffee Roasting Co in Everett is the farthest roaster to the north, and to the south is Bluebeard in Tacoma.
Capitol Hill’s Victrola Coffee became the 25th roaster to sign on with the coffee subscription company, with first deliveries sent out last week.
Berk and Fritzky had worked together at mobile advertising company Marchex, before entering the Seattle startup world. Fritzky had been director of small business product development at Marchex, and Berk was executive vice president of product engineering.
With an iconic coffee culture well established in the city, Berk said the idea behind Bean Box was to use their skills to write software that connected people across the country with better coffee.
“We never wanted to be in the subscription business per se,” he said. “We really wanted to bring people good coffee, and sometimes that’s a gift, and sometimes that means filling your kitchen.”
Ninety percent of Bean Box deliveries are sent to customers outside Washington — 95 percent outside Seattle.
“It’s like a national audience for our locals roasters,” Berk said.
Customers usually start with a sampler, Berk said, then customize their orders after they discover the roast(s) they prefer. He adds Seattle is known for its dark roasts.
A 12-ounce bag every month goes for $23, and $41 for two bags each month. Heavy users could pay $78 each month for a bag a week.
“Our job is to curate really good coffee and help people discover them, and I think we’ve gotten really good at that,” Berk said.
Bean Box’s first shipment was just 80 boxes. At the holiday height three months later, the company shipped 800 boxes. Then it was 6,300 boxes during the holiday spike in 2015.
For its first December in Capitol Hill last year, Berk said 18,000 boxes — about five tons of beans — were shipped out. He estimates about 40,000 boxes could go out this holiday season.
Bean Box moved to Capitol Hill last year, taking over space formerly occupied by 15th Ave Garage — before the Pike Motorworks preservation and redevelopment — and just down the hill from Bill’s on Broadway on East Pine.
“Sometimes people try to come in,” Berk said, “and if we’re drinking something, we’ll invite them in and let them have a taste. We’ll never be a coffee shop.”
The old auto garage makes it easy for postal trucks to back in for deliveries, Berk said, with a small space for the tech side of the business and packaging and distribution in the back. It’s also convenient for Berk, who lives in Capitol Hill.
Formerly from New York, Berk said he thinks neighborhoods are enhanced when they offer more than just restaurants, retail and apartments and condos. He said Bean Box gives the Hill more flavor.
But Bean Box is getting pressed for space. Without additional automation equipment, such as the machines that weigh and bag the coffee beans, Berk said Bean Box can handle 2,500 boxes a day.
“We want to stay in Capitol Hill as long as we can,” he said, “and in this space as long as we can, but it’s a matter of how much automation we can have.”