Why Your Favorite Band Will Soon Be on Your Kitchen Table
Food startups are finding success growing their businesses on the backs of bands they're passionate about.
A Jupiter Records roast by Brandywine Coffee Roasters. Photo courtesy of Brandywine Coffee Roasters.
"Just do it and see what happens."
That's what Todd Purse tells me over the phone when I ask what he was thinking when he decided to make the leap to opening one of the fastest-growing coffee roasters in New England.
Todd is an illustrator, cartoonist, graffiti artist, punk rock musician, and songwriter above all else, even though his job as head creative and wholesale manager for Brandywine Coffee Roasters might eat up most of his time these days. His company, which roasted its first official batch only six months ago, has gone from cooking 700 pounds of beans a month to 2,000. And he only sees it growing from there.
Purse attributes at least some of that growth to a new co-branding trend between the independent music and food industries, a strategy that's been in effect for decades on a much larger, integrated scale, but has only just taken root among startup groups and smaller operations.
"A lot of what I learned by setting up shows and touring has helped me develop relationships with our customers," Purse says. "It didn't matter as much to me about how many tickets a band could sell, just that they were cool people who were fun to hang out with. That's informed a lot of what we do today, and why I think we've been able to identify so well with the people who buy our stuff, many of whom are touring musicians themselves."
In the last few months, Brandywine has begun producing custom-roasted and branded bags of coffee for music-minded operations, including Jade Tree Records and the Wilmington, Delaware-based record store Jupiter Records. Brandywine originally collaborated with Jupiter on a roast and event for the shop's second-year anniversary, which also involved Jade Tree, who became a mutual partner. Purse grew up listening to Jade Tree's bands, which has included groups like Fucked Up, My Morning Jacket, Hot Water Music, and dozens of others, so he was excited to work on a roast for the label when they noticed the work Brandywine had done for Jupiter.
"It's definitely unusual," says Jade Tree label manager Ben Johnson, when I ask how their coffee has worked into their merchandising mix. "We've realized it's a different product than any other merch we've sold before. If you know coffee, you know the roast date matters. That's why we're selling it out of our warehouse and a separate merch store. I think it's a great combination, though. Coffee and punk rock go so well together."
It's not the only pairing that's worked well. Kyle Janis, who runs Soothsayer Hot Sauce out of Chicago, has found his own success growing business on the back of music he's passionate about. Janis started his company bottling peppers and vinegar out of his apartment for his friends, but has found support from a punk-leaning crowd in turning his hobby into a real startup.
"Setting up the business has been a learning process," he says. "We're just getting into full production now, so we're moving from having local mercados order in produce to us establishing wholesale supplier relationships. Branding sauce with bands I like has certainly helped our exposure. It was weird to get emails from kids telling me they read about my hot sauce on Punknews. It gets them to try our other products and really see what we're about."
Janis doesn't fit the usual crowd associated with hot sauce conventions and gift shops: Not a single flame adorns his clothing, no blonde tips are found in his hair, and he doesn't have wing-eating contests with his friends to see who can stomach the most unnecessary amount of heat. He doesn't talk about Scoville units or hybrid peppers when you ask him what his sauce tastes like. It's clear that his business is about actually producing something that tastes great.
"The hot sauce scene is … weird," he says. "I'm not a fan of the Dickies work shirts, skulls, and fiery butthole jokes that come with a lot of what's out there. Soothsayer lets us talk about punk rock and shitty diner food and just be ourselves."
Manufacturing schedules for both Purse and Janis go beyond their root products, though. Purse says that while beans and bags have been Brandywine's go-to for co-branding so far, cold-brew concentrate has become an attractive proposition for bands who want to sell something their crowds can mix with cheap liquor at DIY venues. He also says the fact that it can be made buzzier, like an energy drink, has been a selling point.
Janis says he's planning to expand his own mix of products beyond a basic bottle-and-cap enterprise to include pepper sprays, barrel-aging with local distilleries, and hot sauces and albums released in tandem by QR code.
"As we get into our next generation of band products, we'll be working with a lot of acts who don't have much name recognition," he comments. "When we do these releases, we really like to promote music as much as we can instead of arbitrarily dropping a product."
A number of higher-profile groups have already jumped on their own. The Descendents' Bonus Blend Coffee boasts "very dense coffee beans chocked full [sic] of complex flavors but strong enough to withstand a deep roast profile."
Pipeworks Brewing Company, acquaintances of Janis's in Chicago, have already produced beer for SideOneDummy Records artists Meat Wave, named after the group's album Delusion Moon, while 3 Floyds has done the same for metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Pig Destroyer. Kuma's Corner, the same city's metal-themed burger restaurant, routinely features specials on their menu that name-drop regional bands.
And rumors of edible records are already floating around pressing plants, while retail marijuana operations prep special brownies and candy for those inclined to put their name on the wrapper.
It all adds up to a convincing argument for a new merchandising category that benefits musicians, the food they love, and vice-versa.
"I haven't seen any kind of negative reaction to our work with bands," Janis says. "As I see it, our sauces help to show what we're passionate about. It's a way to do something unique with artists we really love."
He adds: "I've tried to play music. I'm horrible at it. Food was the one thing that really stuck, and we wanted to be able to tie that back to real passion."