Blind Coffee Roasters: a story of collaboration and entrepreneurship

In 1998, Holly Howard (B.S. ‘16) bought a coffee roasting machine for her husband, Tim. After perfecting his skill for roasting coffee and giving away countless free samples, Holly pushed him to start a business. In December 2012, Blind Coffee Roasters earned its business license. The name originates from the fact that Tim, a Type I diabetic, has experienced severe complications that affect his eyesight.

After serving in the military, Holly double majored in business management and leadership and human resource management at Portland State University while working full-time at Nike. While she appreciated PSU’s flexible options, she is no stranger to hard work. Tim is a lifelong coffee devotee with extensive experience in sales. Starting their own business felt completely natural. “It took hard work and diligent focus to stand out in a crowded field,” says Tim. “While it took some time to figure out who our customer is, we were able to strike a balance between cost and pricing. What we offer is a good quality product at an accessible price.”

Holly and Tim Howard

A local mindset

Tim and Holly split most of the duties. Holly relies on her business skills, handling the accounting, financials and business planning. Tim does the day-to-day operations, physical labor, coffee roasting and most of the logistics and coordination with buyers and sellers. They develop recipes together. Holly is a 51% owner, making the business female- and veteran-owned.

Blind Coffee Roasters has a strong focus on keeping as much of their business local as possible. Even though they operate for profit, their approach is collaboration, not competition. “One of the things I’ve discovered about being in the U.S. mecca for coffee is that all the roasters in this town know each other,” says Tim. “We want to foster that. We want to buy from local reps and farms whenever possible.” 

Their distribution market and customers are all local. Blind Coffee Roasters hired a local website designer and local web management company, too. They spend extra on local avenues for packaging and donate to local causes that they feel connected to, including the Juvenile Defense Research Foundation (JDRF) of Portland and local animal-related charities. They also find ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Holly and Tim believe that if the people around them succeed, they will succeed as well, and moreover, their success will benefit those around them.

Tim and Holly ultimately love coffee because of the important role it has played in their personal lives. “My friends are the people who sell me coffee or drink my coffee or buy me a coffee. Holly and I had coffee on our first date. Coffee is what my mother and I drank together. It is amazing to see our passion for coffee be reciprocated by our customers.”

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