Honduras Coffee Co.: The right blend of education, experience

TRAVERSE CITY – Running a business is hard enough. Imagine running one based in another country.

Dale and Melanie Firebaugh of Traverse City know all about it, having formed Honduras Coffee Co. with their daughter, Amy, and son-in-law, L. Armando Contreras, a Honduras native.

They formed the company a year ago and brought their first shipment of coffee into the United States in April. The beans are grown at high altitudes in the Comayagua Mountain Region of Honduras. Amy and Armando live in Honduras six to eight months per year and follow the entire process, from picking to shipping.

Amy, a Glen Lake High School graduate, did undergraduate research in Shaded Coffee Ecosystems & Sustainable Development in Central America while obtaining her degree from Grand Valley State University. Armando is a fourth-generation coffee farmer and grew up in the area where the company’s coffee is grown.

“With Armando’s expertise and good relationships with the surrounding farmers, we’re able to be very specific as to our requirements for the coffee we want to purchase from them,” Dale Firebaugh said.

The Firebaughs themselves don’t have coffee- growing experience, but were interested in the business aspect of it. They also own Green Field Farms, an adult foster care home, and come from a “long line of entrepreneurs.”

“We were looking for another business to get into and (Armando) needed some funding, so I gathered my resources,” Firebaugh said. “It’s a laid-back business, but at the same time, very competitive. What’s so great about our company is we not only sell the coffee, we grow it and bring it in ourselves, so it’s fresh.”

The beans are organically grown and hand-picked at the peak of ripeness. Once the outer skin peeled, the beans are washed in mountain river water and dried in the sun.

After the correct dryness has been attained, another layer (the parchment) is peeled and the beans are cleaned in a buffing process. The beans are then screened for size and consistency and bagged for shipment.

“The coffee that’s grown on our farms must also meet our criteria,” Firebaugh said. “The portion that does not is sold off to those who do accept lesser quality.”

The company’s first shipment included 125 bags weighing 150 pounds each.

The coffee is shipped by boat to Tampa, Fla., where it’s trucked to customers in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Michigan.

The green coffee is sold to coffee roasters–one of their biggest customers is Leelanau Roasting Co.–and the roasted coffee is sold to retailers and restaurants.

“We enjoy the business because it’s fun,” he said. “It’s a people business that spans the globe; it’s national, international, political and cultural.” BIZNEWS