Salt Lake Roasting Co.

How it Began

John Bolton, Owner Salt Lake Roasting Co.

There’s more than just coffee in your cup at Salt Lake Roasting Co.  Since 1981, I have traveled more than 25 countries spanning the globe.  These journeys have given me the opportunity to interact with the people of many cultures, to discover what is important to them, to witness the challenges they face in their daily lives and to understand the social importance embodied in the coffee they grow.  I am always seeking out estates that grow coffee in balanced ecological environments.  For example:

  • It is important that they nurture indigenous shade trees, or ‘sombreros’, and other native plants.  These trees protect the coffee from sun and wind, while providing homes for birds and other wildlife. Caring attention of this nature helps to preserve the diminishing virgin cloud forest.
  • I buy organically produced coffees whenever possible.
  • I support estates where workers enjoy a good, fulfilling quality of life.  These measures are not only socially responsible, but ultimately result in the finest coffee you can buy!

The idea of Salt Lake Roasting began while I was working at Snowbird Ski Corp.  Through fortune, hard work and attrition, I became chef over three restaurants at the resort.  In this role, I traveled and loved going to the bay area several times a year. For me, it was inspirational on many levels.  I acquired new food ideas from visionaries like Alice Waters and Jeremy Towers as I dined in establishments like Chez Panisse. I would visit my wine-making friends in Napa Valley and arrange for shipments of wine to be sent back to Utah, through the Liquor Commission, to be offered in our restaurants (this was before wine stores became a thing in Utah and selection was meager at best).  I tasted and enjoyed great coffees at iconic places like Peets, Cafe Trieste, and Graffeos.

In 1979, I went with on a 21-day whirlwind gastronomic trip to 16 cities in the US, (plus Jamaica) made possible by an airline promotion through Eastern Airlines.  Needless to say, the trip was sensory overload. I returned with my mind (and notebooks) crammed with great ideas.  Many of these ideas were implemented at the Snowbird restaurants. Our clientele was from all over the country and even the world; they appreciated the finer things and had discerning palates.  We would fly in fresh fish from Turners in Boston and imported exceptionally good wines to compliment the dishes served.  But there was an essential component to fine dining that I struggled with … our coffee was mediocre.  The question I asked myself repeatedly was, “How come I could go to the Bay area or Chicago or New York and get a good cup of coffee but not in Salt Lake?”

In the fall of 1981, I decided to do something about the lack luster coffee available in Salt Lake City and took the plunge into coffee roasting with the purchase of a 10 Kilo Probat roaster from a man in Cleveland.  I would get off work at 11 pm and drive down to a warehouse in Sandy to roast coffee till 1 or 2 in the morning.  After loading it in the car, I would grab 6 hours of sleep.  When I would get up in the morning to deliver the coffee to Snowbird, the aroma would almost knock me out.

Original Coffee Roaster - 1981
John in front of the first shop in 1985 with his dad.

This went on for 2 years until I jumped in with both feet and left Snowbird behind.  I opened my first retail location on 400 S. and 249 E, in 1983.  The Probat roaster was sold and a 30 Kilo Gothot was purchased for the new store.  The original concept of Salt Lake Roasting was an haute cuisine restaurant that also featured great coffee, but I quickly discovered it was going to be the other way around.  Mr. Peet came out from Berkeley to consult the week before opening.  He was my mentor and an inspiration even though we did not always agree on what the optimal roast level might be for a particular coffee.

Coffee had quickly become my passion. I wanted to learn more about the culture behind coffee, not just to buy it and roast it.  My first trip to origin was Costa Rica in 1985.  I was hooked. Since that first trip, we have been to over 25 coffee producing countries on 4 continents. Some of these destinations I have returned to several times. It’s been a’ privilege to meet with growers and their families and find out what is important to them and the challenges they face.  To see the lay of the land and get your fingers in the volcanic dirt.  To get an inkling of the hard work and sweat that is required to produce great coffee.

Over the past 40 years and 5 locations there have been contributions from literally hundreds of people which have made the Roasting Company possible.  Anyone of them would surely attest to the fact that it was not my talent or charisma that has kept us going.  It was their hard work and creativity.  But there was something more: when I look back over the years, I can see God’s hand all over the direction of my life even through huge blunders and failures.  In fact, our logo came to me in 1981 while doodling on a napkin during a Bible study.

So after 40 years, I am so excited about what the future will bring.  We are grateful for the unwavering support of our customers … some of them have been with us from the beginning, some for only a short time.  As we go forward, we will strive to be faithful to our motto: “Coffee without Compromise.”

kona-2019-with-family
Kona 2019 with the Family
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