On first impression, Steve Mierisch might not be the guy you’d expect to be leading a revolution. Easy going, soft-spoken and always smiling, he comes across as more of a laid back surfer than a fiery Steve Jobs type. This all changes when he lights up talking about building an “incubator” for coffee entrepreneurs; he has a passion and zeal that shines through his relaxed demeanor. His new venture, Pulley Collective, has the potential to turn the coffee industry on it's head.
Steve has coffee flowing through his veins. His great-grandfather emigrated from Germany to Nicaragua, where he was compensated in land from the Nicaraguan government. That land is still in the Mierisch family, and if you’ve been to Ninth Street Espresso this month, it’s likely you’ve been drinking coffee from their farm. Steve has worked in all aspects of the business – from the family farm, Fincas Miersch, to the commodity trading business and most recently a 5-year stint at Intelligentsia.
“This is truly a platform for educating and connecting,” he notes as we survey the space. Pulley Collective is housed in the historic Pier 41 in Red Hook. It’s a beautiful venue that overlooks New York Harbor with a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty. It feels worlds away from Manhattan, and it's charm more than makes up for the lack of any public transportation in the neighborhood.
Pulley Collective offers memberships to cafes that want to roast their own beans. This severely “lowers the barrier to entry” as a commercial roasting space in a city can run upwards of half a million dollars. Current members include Ninth Street and Joe, with others in line for memberships.
Pulley offers the space for storing green beans, two roasting machines on which to learn the art – and a host of other services that a small roastery would need to build a business – cupping, packaging, labeling and so forth.
Pulley is a platform for new entrants in the business, and this is where it gets revolutionary. “I’m here to help the little guy on this side [the roaster] and the little guy on that side [the farmer]” emphasizes Steve.
The way the quality coffee industry is currently set up is stacked in favor of the roaster with a big travel budget, in which the roasters with the largest purse gets access to the most interesting coffees. Most Third Wave roasters treat their producers very well – through higher prices, loyal trust-based relationships and education about producing quality coffee cherry. Unfortunately, there are just a few of these roasters – Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture to name a few – that typically, farmers sell at the commodity price to the corporate players - Folgers, Nestle and so forth.
That’s the genius of Pulley – it can significantly increase the number of quality roasters that can pay higher prices to farmers, and hence buyers seeking great coffees, by lowering the costs of entering the roasting market.
“Roasters are now going to farms” says Steve, “why shouldn’t the farmers come here? I want to connect farmers with roasters in a space like this” Like any great tech innovation, Pulley is building a platform to lower cost, increase access, and hopefully, to start a revolution. Good luck Steve!