Passion, timing lead to ownership
Calvin grad purchases Schuil Coffee, plans to expand marketing efforts.
As an avid coffee drinker, Tim Volkema is well aware of the consumer trends in coffee, and now he owns a long-time Grand Rapids coffee company.
Volkema closed on a deal to purchase Schuil Coffee, 3679 29th St. SE, in late June and now will lead the 36-year-old coffee company into the future. Volkema did not disclose the details of the acquisition, other than it will remain a family business with no debt.
Volkema said he has known retiring owner Greta Schuil for several years, and she reached out, as she knew her stint at the company her father started was winding down.
“I applied my passion for food and drink with the right timing,” Volkema said. “I wasn’t looking for coffee specifically, but I think coffee is really interesting.”
A West Michigan native and Calvin College graduate, the 40-year-old Volkema started his career as a mergers and acquisitions advisor and eventually went to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where he graduated and went to work with Kraft Foods. He also has worked for Amazon and Deloitte, as well as The Windquest Group here in Grand Rapids.
At Kraft, Volkema became familiar with packaged goods and the retailers who sold them. Out in San Francisco, Volkema launched an “Indian version of Chipotle,” called Kasa Indian Eateries, before looking for opportunities in West Michigan.
He said West Michigan does have food manufacturers, which is what he was looking for primarily, but the options are relatively limited in terms of some of the region’s other major industries. The timing for a coffee company just made sense, he said.
Now as he crosses the one-month threshold and Schuil helps transition the company into its new era, Volkema said the most important item on his agenda is to get to know the company and its 10 full-time employees.
“The cool thing for me is the whole team is here, and she’s helping with the transition,” he said. “Her staff is remaining, and the day-to-day contact won’t change. This place can run day-to-day on its own. To have a capable team in place is huge, and I’m really fortunate to have that.”
Outside of making sure he understands the ins and outs of his new company, Volkema said the coffee business is a complex and changing industry.
He said he’s not planning to change a whole lot but will take a hard look at the processes, from the buying of green coffee beans to roasting. As a fan of third-wave coffee companies, such as La Colombe and Intelligentsia, Volkema brought in an independent coffee grader to evaluate Schuil’s product. According to Volkema, the grader was surprised by the quality of the beans the company was roasting and the price for which it was selling. The company roasts and sells more than 100 types of coffees.
“He thought the value was really strong, so that was an interesting experiment,” he said. “It’s very high-quality product.”
Volkema said while the processes might not change much, he does expect to expand the marketing efforts by the company, including on the e-commerce side of the business.
“There’s an area of opportunity in messaging that the Schuil family legacy has been sourcing the best possible coffee and offering it at a fair price,” he said.
Schuil isn’t the oldest coffee company in Grand Rapids, that honor belongs to Ferris Coffee & Nut Co., which was founded in 1924. In the past decade, Ferris has made the transition to offer a third-wave roasters experience, much like other more recent startup coffee companies like Madcap and Rowster.
All three companies have expanded their retail storefronts in Grand Rapids. There currently are no plans to expand Schuil’s retail structure; the company does have a café at its building.
Volkema said he loves the West Michigan coffee scene.
“There are a number of great players in the area, and I look forward to getting to know the community better,” he said. “There’s a lot of growth to go around, as a lot of people are moving to higher-quality coffee. They will continue to migrate, and there will be plenty of room to be successful.”