Starter Stories: Meet Jared DeMeester from Stovetop Roasters
Meet Jared, co-founder of Stovetop Roasters, enthusiastic Starter, perennial entrepreneur, musician and artist. With a bean-to-bag roastery, a subscription business and community-centric café, Stovetop’s mission is to invite people to delight in specialty coffee.
“If both a coffee professional and my 89-year-old Grandma Alice can pick up a bag of Stovetop and feel delighted and engaged, my job is fulfilled.”
— Jared DeMeester
Q: Is there a particular reason you think people have been attracted to Stovetop coffee—for example, what’s in the balance between your specific brand sensibility and a coffee culture today that’s everywhere?
A: From sourcing and roasting to design and branding, there are so many talented people taking part in helping Stovetop shine its little light. Simply put, our mission is to spread joy through coffee and art. With so many roasters to choose from, we feel privileged to serve people each day. We take our coffee seriously, but don’t take ourselves too seriously. I think people are drawn to products and experiences when it’s evident that the folks behind them are having fun, doing what they do because they love it.
Q: How did that come together in this history that you have, from longboarding, through your study of jazz music and then to coffee?
A: I think it started for me with music and performance. When someone is up on stage playing, an audience can often sense whether that person is using their work to either give or take energy. I think in the same way, a business has equal capacity to either give or take energy for its consumers.
With so many new Stovetop Roasters popping up all over the country every day, we have to work hard to make a good thing—responsible sourcing, precise roasting, expert brewing—but all the energy we put into the production of specialty coffee must be balanced by a diligent pursuit of warmth and accessibility. We have no wish to put anything into the world that doesn’t possess a spirit of generosity and hospitality.
In the café we have a neon sign that hangs behind the baristas. It reads: “Thanks for being here.” That’s the heart of Stovetop and has been my approach with everything that led me to coffee. When I’m playing music, I don’t want listeners feeling like mere witnesses at a performance. I want them to feel like participants in an interaction. This translates precisely to Stovetop. We want to serve, not perform.
Q: You hand-draw the designs and packaging for the coffee. Before this, you started a brand called “I Tried My Best” that makes t-shirts and accessories out of your drawings and characters. How does your art inform what Stovetop is about?
A: One of the reasons I think people pick up our bag is because of the drawings and design. It’s not anything virtuosic or miraculous – it’s just real. Drawing is one of the rare and beautiful things in life that I don’t do because I think the world needs what I have; I do it because it brings me life and joy. It’s heartening to see how these humble, blatantly imperfect drawings of animals swaddled in blankets can invite folks into the world of quality coffee and, I hope, give them permission to do what they love without concern for perfection.
Q: How do you want to delight people moving forward?
A: We look forward to continuing to grow our café presence in Grand Rapids, MI. Until the cafe opened, we were communicating with our customers remotely. Now we have a physical space we can invite people into. We’re interacting with our customers in person now, making them coffee rather than just selling them beans. Everything’s more personal now.
The cafe has allowed us to bring people together in new ways, hosting shows and community gatherings and displaying the work of local artists. A café is the living room of a neighborhood, and it’s been a privilege to host our neighbors in our sweet little home.
Q: Do you have heroes in the business or heroes in a different business that inspire you when you’re thinking about the brand and branding?
A: Most of my “hero” figures are just normal people with normal jobs making time to enjoy their art. But, I think the heroes that truly inspire me to do my best work in coffee are probably musicians, designers and people outside of the field because that’s how I think a lot of art works. I wouldn’t go to a coffee conference to get inspiration for Stovetop; I’d go to a parade or a jazz club or an aquarium. I think the purest, most influential inspiration we receive will come to us when we aren’t looking for it. It catches us by surprise and requires a certain mindset, being open to receiving life and energy in unexpected places.
Q: Did something happen in the combined skill set of you and your partners that covered all of the territory of “I’m good at this and you’re good at this.” What happened in the partnership and collaboration to help foster your success?
A: I’m a starter, and my impulse is to start something, pass it on to someone else for management, and then start another thing. There’s excitement in creating. That’s where my skill set lies. But my partner in Stovetop has helped me learn to see beauty in sticking with something, understanding that the sponge of a startup is never fully wrung dry. New challenges, new opportunities, and new ideas will continually emerge. It’s a healthy collaboration: I’m good at bringing a thing into existence, and my partner is good at keeping the thing alive. Two very different skill sets. If either of us were working apart from the other, Stovetop wouldn’t exist. But put us together and all is well.
Q: As you’ve found your inspiration in doodling and the ordinary, what advice do you have for other starters out there?
A: The “I tried my best” philosophy is so helpful for me because, in truth, I really only like doing things I’m good at. It’s in my nature to be a perfectionist. But that’s not how I want to live, and I’ve worked hard to change that part of my nature—replacing rigid perfectionism with joyous imperfectionism. The latter is more fun. If you’re passionate about something, pursue it. There are lots of people who aren’t excited about anything. Too many people. They’re bored. But not you—you have passion. And what a waste it would be if doubt or fear or insecurity choked that passion before it blossomed. Don’t fear failure. Fear stagnancy.