After 43 years filling Juneau’s capacious coffee mugs, Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. founder and owner Grady Saunders has passed the torch to new ownership. Former company Vice President Amy Knight has taken ownership of the company.
“As with all things, there is a time to pass the torch — and in this case, the coffee mug — to a new generation that can merge the old with the new,” Saunders said in Facebook post announcing the change.
Knight, an employee for eight years, worked under Saunders as Vice President for seven years. The transition went smoothly, Knight said at a Thursday interview at Heritage’s office.
“It’s just exciting. I never intended to be a business owner, but the way my life has worked out, it made sense. I feel like I am good at my job and this opportunity couldn’t be passed up. It’s all about timing,” Knight said.
Heritage employs about 75 during the summer months and about to 60 to 65 employees when the summer tourism season is over. Their revenue is split about 50-50 between retail purchases of coffee and food, and wholesale coffee to individuals, hotels and railroads in the rest of the state.
“We have customers all over Alaska, so even if Juneau is having a bad year, we’re making it up north somewhere,” Knight said.
They roast their own coffee — sourced from Brazil and Costa Rica — through a single roaster at their offices and roastery on Willoughby Avenue. They sell about 250,000 pounds of whole-bean coffee a year. That’s not including the coffee they sell in-store.
Knight’s big goal in her first several years as owner is to rebuild Heritage’s Glacier Cafe. The company has a strong presence with four walk-in locations downtown but could increase their profile in the Mendenhall Valley. She’s trying to work out a deal with the landlord of their current Glacier Cafe to build a new cafe behind the current one.
“Our customers really want it and I think it’s just something that could be really great out in the valley,” Knight said.
Knight started her career managing drive-thru coffee stands in her hometown Fairbanks. She made the transition to Heritage eight years ago off a recommendation from a supervisor.
“We actually sold Heritage Coffee there, so it was kind of this serendipitous thing where I came down to Juneau, I packed up all my stuff in Heritage Coffee boxes that I have in my basement and I knocked on the door here.
Knight worked as a barista, accountant, receptionist and manager in her first year. Recognizing her passion and talent in for the job, Saunders let Knight travel to industry conferences and meet with farmers to learn about the businesses supply chain.
“Really, he gave me a lot of opportunity. I came in here at a time where he was looking to retire and relax a little bit, so I’ve had a lot of free reign in my position than somebody normally would have,” Knight said.
Saunders, a former President of the Specialty Coffee Association, will be sticking around to consult with Knight part time. Saunders said he is “very proud” to have found Knight as she’s “competent, creative, energetic and dedicated.”
“I would go broke if I didn’t work here, I think. I think most of us feel that way. Those of us that make this a career are super passionate,” Knight said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.