Brewing Up Good
A community-focused coffee roaster making a difference, Vancouver’s Relevant Coffee partners with The Diner Vancouver to bring exceptional coffees to the classic diner and the intergenerational community it serves.
A cup of diner coffee is not just another cup of joe. It’s the ritual of entering the diner and picking your seat. It’s the feeling of the classic heavy ceramic mug warming your hands. It’s the vinyl upholstery, the clatter of silverware, and Elvis Presley playing over the speaker. It’s the ambiance, the atmosphere, the people watching. It’s knowing that your cup will never be empty.
But at The Diner Vancouver, the coffee fulfills more than the minimum diner coffee requirements – hot, black, and caffeinated. Every cup is freshly roasted by Vancouver’s Relevant Coffee.
“There are so many seniors in our community who don’t get the needs met that they deserve,” said Relevant’s founder Mitch Montgomery. “When we found out what The Diner was, it was a big absolutely yes for us to have that relationship. It gives a place for seniors to go and have a meal and connect with people. It feels like a hub for the community. You see people of all ages enjoying The Diner. The food is great — and the coffee is good, too,” he added with a laugh.
Since Relevant expanded to its current cafe and roasting space located in the heart of downtown Vancouver in 2019, it has been a not only a gathering place but also a community contributor, hosting holiday winter coat and toy drives, delivering goods to the Vancouver Free Fridge Project, and supporting local restaurants and hospital workers.
“It’s taken the community to help build what we’ve become,” Mitch said.
One Bean at a Time
When Mitch was growing up in Issaquah, Washington, he watched his dad drink cheap black coffee out of a thermos all day long. “He worked in construction, and coffee was very utilitarian,” Mitch recalled. “I thought it was gross.” Still, he got a job as a barista at 16.
But his interest was in the kitchen. He worked in restaurants for a few years and then enrolled in the hospitality and business management program at Washington State University in Pullman. While in the culinary industry, Mitch was often one of the few people who knew how to properly make a latte or a cappuccino. “I would end up training other people how to make coffee,” he said. “I was becoming an expert at the coffee side of things.”
It was his expertise, not yet his passion, that led him to running the coffee program within a fine-dining restaurant in Arizona. He flew to Seattle to train with a coffee roaster. “That was the moment,” Mitch said. “I got hooked. I wanted to roast coffee.”
He started reading about the geographic origin of coffee beans and coffee flavor profiles from different regions. He accepted a roaster apprentice. Eventually, he took over the roaster at Press Coffee in Phoenix.
But something was calling him back home to the Pacific Northwest.
From Farm to Café
Now married and with a newborn, Mitch wanted to start his own coffee roasting business. “I can set him in his bouncy chair and sell some coffee on the side,” Mitch said. “That’s how Relevant Coffee was born.”
The company soon outgrew his garage, and in 2017, Relevant opened its first coffee bar – a 425-square-foot shop with three little tables in it. “You couldn’t roll a stroller in it,” Mitch said. But it quickly grew in popularity. “I almost immediately was surprised at how appreciated we were in the community.”
Mitch could see the potential – both of Relevant and of downtown Vancouver: “What if Relevant Coffee is the premier coffee roasting company in downtown Vancouver? My fear was Stumptown would come in, and I’d miss the opportunity to be what we’ve become. So we borrowed a bunch of money and threw caution to the wind.”
In 2019, Relevant expanded to its current cafe and roasting space situated between Vancouver’s historic Hough and Arnada neighborhoods. The café exudes a Scandinavian aesthetic, with its light-colored wooden interiors and abundant natural light. Taking cues from wineries and brewers, the focal point of the café is its coffee roaster, prominently showcased behind a multi-panel glass wall visible from within the café.
“So many people drink coffee, but only a fraction of those people know what it is they’re consuming: the fermented pit of a coffee cherry,” Mitch said. “We wanted to demystify it. I try to educate people on where coffee comes from. A good cup of coffee comes from the farm, the fermentation process, the care it was given during its life as a plant. I try to educate people on that piece.”
Relevant sources its coffees from sustainable and quality-driven farmers around the world and introduces people to the farmers through its Instagram page.
“Very few people go to a café and buy a cup of coffee and take a sip and say, ‘Man, that farmer grew a great cup of coffee,’ but kudos really does go to the farm,” Mitch said.
For the Love of Coffee and Community
As Mitch looks to the future, he’s exploring ways to expand Relevant. It’s moving into grocery stories, including New Seasons, Chuck’s, and Market of Choice. It built a cold-brew production facility that can brew up to 1,000 gallons of cold brew and is distributing ready-to-drink cans. It’s even making coffee in a box – “like wine but with coffee,” Mitch said.
“The pandemic was really hard on our business,” he said. “We need to make sure our sales channels are diversified.”
Despite a challenging few years, Relevant hasn’t given up its community focus. In December, Relevant supported Operation Warm Coats for Kids in conjunction with Vancouver Fire Union as well as Vancouver Free Fridge + Pantry, a community mutual-aid project helping to combat food insecurity and food waste.
“If you go onto any website, you’re going to see the word ‘community’ thrown around,” Mitch said. “Let’s walk the walk. What do we do to give back? How do we be a good community partner and a place people can trust? There’s such a need for a community group looking out for our aging population. For Relevant, it’s a huge win for us to be a partner for Meals on Wheels People.”
Relevant is open daily from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM at 1703 Main St., Suite A in Vancouver. The Diner Vancouver is open Wednesday through Sunday from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. 5303 E Mill Plain Blvd. in Vancouver, Washington.