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Distributor in Astoria brews up business

Donaldson prepares to grind up a fresh batch of some of his high-quality coffee beans. Photo by Chris Engelhardt
TimesLedger Newspapers

When owner Brian Donaldson discusses Native Coffee Roasters, his new, independent coffee distribution business based in Astoria, through every gesture, every smile, his passion for the beverage comes through.

“I love coffee — I drink a ton of it,” Donaldson said. “I wanted to be involved in the coffee industry, and I really like the idea of roasting. The major thing for me was the lack of presence of smaller roasters in New York City, whereas the West Coast is a dominant force in the roasting coffee business.”

That lack of presence, Donaldson said, is what inspired him to start his business in January, and Native Coffee Roasters has slowly brewed up business ever since.

The mission, he said, is selecting high-quality beans and roasting small batches, providing coffee lovers with fresh, locally produced beverages.

“It’s retail and wholesale,” Donaldson said. “I do wholesale to cafés and restaurants, and for retail I do farmers markets, pop-up markets. I distribute it myself. I try and create relationships with local businesses.”

His brand is sold in several establishments, including the Queens County Farm Museum, in Floral Park and, most recently, the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, which he said was “a huge hit.”

The response has been positive so far, he said, and Donaldson continues to work with local businesses to further distributed his product. He also attends small pop-up markets when possible to sell his brand.

A 12-ounce bag of coffee, he said, can run anywhere from $12 to $17, he said. On average, it can take him up to 15 minutes to roast 5 pounds of coffee.

Asked what separates his product from the likes of Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, he described his brand as having better quality and consistent flavor and stressed the significance of his locally produced mindset.

“I’ve never gone into a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks and walked out and been like, ‘Wow, that’s really good,’” he said. “For me, it’s quality and consistency. When I go to a market, the bags are roasted 24 hours before for ultimate freshness.”

Donaldson, who is 30 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, Lindsey, was born and raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Growing up, he would visit friends in Astoria and survey the restaurant and bar scene often. Astoria, he said, reminded him of Bay Ridge and was an ideal place to start a business.

“And that’s why I call it Native Coffee Roasters — I’m doing this here,” he said. “It’s important to establish your name and to support someone from within your city.”

And with a variety of coffee, from high-quality El Salvadorian to Colombian beans, and a refreshing mix of hot- and cold-brew beverages, Donaldson said business is beginning to pick up — so much so, he said, that he recently added Guatemalan, Mexican, Ethiopian and Costa Rican coffees to his repertoire to offer businesses a wider selection of options.

Down the road, he said, he wants to expand by either opening a small café or starting a pop-up shop so he can jump from location to location.

But for now, Donaldson said, his goal is focusing on quality coffee, building his brand and maintaining a personal rapport with buyers.

“I want to be the guy behind the market table selling you coffee, telling you about it,” he said. “I haven’t gotten any bad feedback yet. I want people to be proud to serve it and people to be happy to buy it.”

Reach reporter Chris Engelhardt by e-mail at cengelhardt@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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