Heritage Coffee Roasting Company was built on a simple mission – to bring great tasting, freshly-roasted coffee to the Juneau community. Our founder, Grady Saunders, began his love affair with coffee in the San Francisco Bay area during the late 60’s, when at dinner parties he and friends would share in the coffee-making ritual by passing a manual coffee grinder around the table after dinner. As fan and friend of Peet’s coffee & tea, he tasted and learned about coffee until it was in his blood, so to speak. After some world traveling and tasting coffee along the way (espresso in Italy being the high point) he ended up in Juneau only to find no palatable coffee options. A call to Alfred Peet of Peet’s coffee & tea changed his life, and Juneau’s coffee landscape forever. Mr. Peet declined selling coffee to Grady, stating it would not be fresh enough if shipped from California. He did, though, suggest that Grady call a little start-up coffee company in Seattle who might be able to help. That little start-up was Starbucks, and Heritage’s extensive history in Juneau has been written from there. Quaffs Coffee & Tea opened on Nov 1, 1974 upstairs in the Emporium Mall, selling coffee beans shipped from Seattle out of large olive jars collected from the taverns on South Franklin street. Many Juneauites remember this and many incarnations of Heritage in early years, from Quaffs at the Merchants Wharf to Heritage Northwest on South Franklin St. until finally settling in 1985 as Heritage Coffee Co. in its current S. Franklin Street location.
By the end of 1974, Heritage had grown to become one of Starbucks’ largest wholesale customers. Within a few years, one of the original Starbucks founders, Jerry Baldwin (a man still known today for his dedication to coffee quality) suggested that it was time for Heritage to start roasting their own coffee and steered Heritage toward buying green coffee and roasting on site. In spring of 1982 a Probat L12 coffee roaster was purchased and air-freighted to the Capital city. Soon after, those luscious coffee aromas began wafting over our town. This was also the year that Heritage joined the newly formed Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) as its 24th member.
The next twenty years held many successes. Grady served on many committees and eventually the Board of Directors for the SCAA. He was elected president of the association in 1993. In his time at the SCAA, he was dedicated to forwarding the rise of specialty coffee as we know it, convincing coffee producers to abandon many high yield methods in turn for growing higher quality coffees which he was certain the demand would increase for. In his travels Grady created relationships with growers from all over the world committed to producing consistent, high quality coffee and to sustainable practices in respect to the environment and the livelihoods of their workers. To this day Heritage enjoys the benefits of these relationships by being able to consistently locate and procure the highest quality coffees available.
On the home front, Heritage expanded to include additional café and drive-thru locations. The company also expanded its wholesale side, supplying coffee to other businesses, cafes and offices throughout the state that were also driven to serve a fresh-roasted brew.
This increase in volume meant that Heritage needed a larger roaster. In 2006 Heritage purchased a beauty, a vintage 1946 German Probat 45 kilo roaster desired for its cast steel construction vs. the rolled steel or air roasting models available today. Upon install at the Heritage Roasterie downtown Grady recognized an odd familiarity with the big machine. After a few calls it was verified that this was the roaster that Starbucks originally roasted on, the roaster that launched their success AND that roasted coffee for Heritage in those first few years of business.
And the story does not end here. Heritage still roasts on this vintage roaster, has expanded its wholesale delivery to include some of the most remote areas in the state, and has gained a large following from international destination travelers who come to Juneau each year seeking out adventure in the north. Despite its rapid wholesale growth, Heritage continues to operate and open new cafes within Juneau, providing the community with delicious handcrafted espresso drinks, homemade gelato, and the finest and freshest roasted coffees. Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. has been voted Juneau’s favorite coffee for more than 25 years running….and is fast becoming Alaska’s favorite.