Austin's Greater Goods Coffee Roasters
Where patrons like their coffee with milk, sugar, and a dollop of community Impact.
Written by Mikaela Thomas
Photography by Danielle Chloe Photography and Weston Carls
Starting a new business would seem challenging enough to most, but building philanthropy into the model from day one is even more challenging. Undaunted, husband-and-wife founders of Greater Goods Coffee Roasters Trey Cobb and Khanh Trang set out to build a business that went beyond the ordinary and would give back to their community.
Automotive engineer and professional photographer, respectively, by trade, Trey and Khanh decided to try their hand at something entirely new after Khanh made a chance visit to a coffee industry expo in Portland in 2012. She left the expo that day with her longtime love for coffee reignited and with a career in roasting coming into clear focus. Together, she and her husband hit the ground running, learning everything there is about the farm-to-cup process of making great brew. In 2014, they sold Trey’s motorsports company, COBB Tuning, and launched themselves full-force into their new life as coffee roasters.
As director of coffee, Khanh oversees quality and flavor by sourcing the highest quality beans from around the world, as well as creating unique drink recipes for the cafes, while Trey utilizes his business and engineering background to oversee roasting production and the back-end business. When asked about the transition from motorsports to roasting, he says “It's an entirely new industry from where I was in the past … but the roasting side, there's a lot of science involved with that. So that's helped keep the engineering side of my brain engaged.”
As the couple laid the groundwork for their business, they also began building the philanthropic partnerships that today make up the heart of their business. Khanh attributes their desire to give back to their own backgrounds. “We are self-made,” she says. “We came from nothing. I'm a first-generation immigrant who was helped by the community when I arrived in this country … so that’s where my heart has always been, in just giving back.”
From the start, Khanh and Trey knew that they wanted to support local nonprofits through long-term charity that would have a measurable impact on the community in which they lived and worked. Trey says it wasn’t always easy, “Starting it from scratch, you really have your forecast to work from, but no other historical data … so that was probably one of the most difficult things, was to just figure out how much we could incorporate the giving back portion.”
But they didn’t let the challenge scare them off. After careful research and consideration, they landed on partnerships with The Autism Society of Central Texas, The Central Texas Food Bank, Austin Pets Alive!, and the Boys and Girls Club of the Austin Area. Their charity process is simple: Each bag of roast is associated with one of the four charities and includes details about what exactly your purchase accomplishes. A bag of Rise & Shine provides four meals to an Austin family in need from the Food Bank, while a bag of Breakfast Blend gives a pup at APA! a full day of behavioral rehabilitation.
Trey explains that being able to communicate the impact to customers in a tangible way was essential to them. They wanted their philanthropy to be as direct as possible. “It's not just, ‘a portion of proceeds,’ but, ‘this is the direct result,’” he says. And their relationship with their partners doesn’t stop with coffee sales. Khanh and Trey look for additional ways to team up, such as sharing space for events and giving out coffee at partner fundraisers.
The impetus behind Greater Goods’ charity has always been to support the community, but the model has been good for business as well. Greater Goods’ employees take pride in being part of a community-minded business, which boosts job satisfaction; a side-effect that Khanh and Trey plan further nurture by creating volunteer opportunities for their staff, so that each team member can spend a day with one of the charities and experience the impact first hand.
In addition, associating each donation with a different roast serves as a subtle way to encourage customers to branch out and try new types of coffee. “That was one of the intentions, to maybe get people that might not be as interested in the specialty coffee to be willing to give it a try,” Trey explains, “when they see an organization on the bag that they want to support. And then hopefully, through that, they love the coffee as well.”
The model is good for business-to-business marketing, too. Restaurants and cafes want to be part of the culture of giving back and to communicate that desire to their customers. Stocking Greater Goods Coffee appeals to that philanthropic desire.
Greater Goods was initially intended to be purely a roasting company, but with time it became evident that Khanh and Trey would need to expand the business. Unlike products such as beer and wine that can be shipped directly from producer to consumer, the creation of a great cup of coffee depends not only on the roast but on the cafe and barista who deliver the final product. Being a new name in the roasting industry, the founders knew every cup would reflect on their brand, and they weren’t willing to take any chances. So in Fall 2017, they opened their first storefront in Bee Caves, followed shortly by the opening of their East 5th flagship location in Spring 2018.
With the shop space came the opportunity to expand into yet another arena: classes and workshops. They built a training lab alongside the cafe and got certified as a Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) campus. The creation of the training lab was, in part, a result of Khanh’s own experience coming up in the coffee industry. “When I was first starting off in coffee, there wasn't really a place that was willing to teach. Especially roasting,” she explains. “It was a little bit of a different time. It was a time when people held their secrets. So it was really hard for me to get in.” Khanh and Trey wanted to break down those barriers for the Austin community. With classes ranging from latte art and cupping to roasting technique and sensory science, their training lab offers a valuable resource for amateur and professional coffee fanatics alike.
When asked whether they felt hesitant to share industry knowledge with potential competitors, Trey dismisses the fear, saying that sharing core information and skills is mutually beneficial because it elevates the whole industry. And he believes the same holds true for any organization. “If all departments operate in silos with little to no knowledge transfer,” he says, “the organization ultimately suffers. We'd rather play an active role in the success of our industry because we too want to be successful.”
Looking ahead to the next five years, the couple plans to stay on their toes and continue growing. “I love challenges,” Khanh says as she shares plans for new shopfronts and potential expansion into new cities. So what about their charity work as they scale up? Even as they grow, their partners remain central in their minds. As they were exploring options, they specifically looked for organizations with local chapters nationwide, so that as they grew, so could their partnerships. “If you're, let's say, in Chicago” explains Trey, “then when you're buying a coffee that supports animal welfare, that's supporting a shelter in the Chicago area. That way it's still supporting their local communities.” And local impact, for Khanh and Trey, is the point behind it all.
Though charity is integral to the company, it’s not the only thing driving their business or a gimmick to mask an inferior product. Their primary focus has always been the quality of their roasts. “If someone's interested in [community giving] and it's of value to them, then that's great and we're happy to talk about it,” Trey says. “But if they're just looking for great coffee, then, here you go.”