Jean Swoope – The Coffee Tree Roasters
- Written by: Kate Gardner
- Produced by: Victor Martins & Cherie Scott
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
When Jean Swoope became the president and owner of The Coffee Tree Roasters, she had a few ideas for change.
Her late husband, who started the business with his father in 1993, had been consistent in how the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, coffee company had operated. Without disrespecting his legacy, Swoope added her own touch.
“He did a lot of things right, but there were things I wanted to do differently,” she says. “Different personalities make different business decisions. I’ve been able to come in with a fresh attitude and perspective and try new things.”
For example, the business didn’t have a website when Swoope’s husband, Bill Swoope, was running it. She knew to stay relevant and meet customer expectations, The Coffee Tree Roasters would need a much stronger online presence.
The website allows for online ordering, which has been crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, she says. The pandemic has also led to new business ideas and partnerships, including working with Schneider’s Dairy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to bottle the coffee shop’s cold brew for wholesale and individual sale. Swoope says The Coffee Tree Roasters is now exceeding its pre-pandemic revenue.
While she’s implemented many new ideas since her husband’s death in 2018, Swoope says they all connect with the philosophy Bill Swoope (and his father of the same name) developed.
“As part of our company culture, we’ve never wanted to just compete with other coffee shops,” she says. “We wanted to set the standard and differentiate by offering unique products and services in the market.”
In addition to having five retail stores and 13 licensed locations, The Coffee Tree Roasters operates two other divisions within the business: Iron Star Roasting and Espresso Solutions.
Through Iron Star Roasting, the company sells wholesale beans, cafe products and gourmet foods, as well as coffee making equipment to other coffee companies and cafes. Iron Star Roasting also offers consulting services for people looking to start their own shop or to license a Coffee Tree Roasters location. Espresso Solutions is a coffee, espresso and refrigeration equipment repair company with 24/7 service.
Swoope has also been focused on growing retail operations and has made some new hires to help achieve this. That includes a new district manager who ensures there’s consistency across all locations, as well as a food scientist who works on drink development with the chief operating officer.
“We already had built an amazing foundation with our coffee, but we need to stay current and relevant,” Swoope says.
In addition to offering beans and roasts from different regions of the world, The Coffee Tree Roasters has specialty drinks such as Thai iced tea, white peach turmeric lemonade, and flavored frozaccinos, which are espresso-based blended iced beverages.
“The fact that we have a lot of new products has helped us grow and bring in new customers,” Swoope says.
Building the future
Hiring more young people has also brought new energy to the company, she adds. This has included partnering with local high schools to work with students.
Through a new program called Brewing Success, The Coffee Tree Roasters has opened coffee bars in three Pittsburgh area high schools which are run by students. While Swoope oversees the program, students, including many with special needs, operate the business by managing inventory, finances and staffing. She and other staff trained them all at The Coffee Tree Roaster’s main location.
Not only do students gain more confidence, but they gain skills and work ethic that will serve them well after they graduate, she says.
“To see the kids transform themselves, some from barely speaking a word to now serving and chatting it up with customers and teachers in the cafe, is pretty amazing,” Swoope says. “Building future entrepreneurs and giving back to the community are essential to our mission.”
While giving back has been foundational to The Coffee Tree Roasters since the beginning, it’s recently added a new facet to its mission: being a woman-owned business certified by the U.S. Small Business Association
“Business comes naturally to me,” she says of her medical sales experience. “The crossover from sales is learning the product, having a passion for it and being able to innovate. What applied to medical products applies to coffee.”
Leaving the career she built, which also included being a registered nurse, wasn’t an easy decision, Swoope says. Ultimately, though, she and her two kids decided they wanted to keep the business in the family and build upon what the two Bill Swoopes had established.
“I think it shows that despite adversity and coming into this role under circumstances I never would have chosen, we’ve been able to excel,” she says.
View this feature in the Terra Firma Vol I 2022 Edition here.
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