RICHMOND — The small, white food truck has been open less than a month, but there is already a steady stream of regulars pulling in for their favorite morning brew.
It’s not your everyday brew. Owner Ken Marot hand-roasts every bean on the premises. The former owner of the TLC coffee shop in West Kingston, Marot sold that business and bought a vacant building at 388 Church Street two years ago. He lives on one side and roasts in the other. The food truck, dubbed “Rhody Roasters Café, is parked in front.
Sitting outside at a picnic table as traffic whizzed by, Marot jumped up frequently to deal with the business of coffee; customers, deliveries, and a visit from one of his biggest boosters, Rep. Justin Price, R-Richmond.
“I’ve known Ken for years and I actually helped him get the building up and running through the construction end of it,” Price said. “I know he’s up and running now, so I wanted to see how things were going.”
Now in his mid-60s, Marot is a man who truly loves coffee, so much so that in 2005, he left a position in the hospitality industry in England to make coffee his career.
“I left my job, I bought the TLC property,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and I polled the locals and they said ‘it would be nice to have a coffee shop here,’ so that’s how I got started.”
When Marot began, he was selling coffee roasted elsewhere, but he soon realized that fresh beans weren’t always easy to come by, so he decided to roast his own.
“I wanted my coffee and pastry and everything to be fresh, so I decided to build my own roaster,” he said. “I learned that if I roasted it myself and sold it three days later — it needs three days to mellow out.”
Coffee-roasting, Marot admitted, was a skill that took time to acquire, and the experience was not without mishaps.
“The roaster that I built, that caught on fire a dozen times,” he recalled. “It was a kind of peanut roaster… It would catch on fire all the time. When I think about it, man, I’d be trying to wait at the counter, I’d go put some in and wait on the counter and somebody would come in and say ‘hey there’s fire out there!’ … When coffee beans catch fire, the oils in the beans, it’s like diesel fuel.”
After 10 years of roasting, Marot has become a connoisseur who purchases coffee beans from countries like India, Ethiopia, Bali and Papua New Guinea. The beans, which lie in burlap sacks in the roasting room, are high-grown, which means the land is not clear-cut in order to grow them.
“All of our beans are high-grown pod Arabica beans, and a lot of them are shade-grown,” he said. “A coffee bean that’s grown higher tends to be sweeter. They don’t clear-cut. In Brazil and Colombia, they clear-cut everything, taking away the habitat for the birds.”
Marot roasts 40 varieties and blends of coffee beans in his imposing, $30,000 roaster. His personal favorite these days is the Indian Monsoon Malibar.
“It’s a low-acidity coffee,” he said. “It’s stomach-friendly and it has a nice chocolatey finish. The Indian Monsoon Malibar is an aged coffee. They age it and turn it in an open warehouse, so it gets the moist monsoon air.”
In addition to coffee, Rhody Roasters sells pastries, breakfast sandwiches and calzones from Borrelli’s Bakery in Providence.
“Next week, we’re going to start dinners to go,” Marot said.
Richmond officials have welcomed Marot to the rural neighborhood where previously there were no coffee or food vendors.
“When people believe in your town, and they want to see things grow, and they want to see positive things, and then the people who are leading the town are part of it, it will get people to look at it in a different light and say ‘I want to be part of that,’” Town Council President Richard Nassaney said. “There are people who have money, there are people who have ideas, and when they know that the people who are going to be working with them, the town officials, are open to new ideas, and to bring in businesses, there’s no downside.”
Marot has also committed to helping the southern Rhode Island community. On Oct. 20, all proceeds from every $12.95 pound of coffee sold will be donated to the Jonnycake Center of Westerly.
The musician and anti-hunger activist, Chakulla, will be performing all day with his band.
“I have a bus with a canopy. It’s a stage,” Chakulla said. “We’ll be singing out for food, in other words, we’ll be sharing awareness.”
Rhody Roasters is open seven days a week, and Marot plans to remain open throughout the winter.
“I’m happy with it so far,” he said. “The locals are happy I’m here, and I’m happy they’re here, and they’re already repeat customers. A lot of good people in this area.”