Kamiak Coffee Company: Helping Brew a Better Cup
By Meagan Garrett
As WSU freshmen, Kyle O’Malley (Fin., Ent. ’17) and Grant Schoenlein (Fin. ’16) knew before they graduated they didn’t want to follow a traditional career path.
“I pitched an idea for an on-campus roastery to Elson S. Floyd,” says O’Malley. “I envisioned a specialty café space that also sold product, much like Ferdinand’s does with their shop, but with coffee.”
The on-campus roastery didn’t happen, but the idea stuck with him. O’Malley says he always knew that if he started a business, he would want it to have a global impact.
He soon met Schoenlein who was studying finance, and the pair began honing their business skills, gaining guidance from the WSU Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (CES) and experience from the CES Business Plan Competition.
“The Business Plan Competition was the best thing I ever did in college,” says O’Malley. “It was the hardest I’d ever worked and the most time I’d put in to anything that wasn’t for a grade, but it was the most valuable time I spent.”
O’Malley and Schoenlein developed their craft coffee idea (think fancy beer, but with coffee beans) fairly easily. Being coffee lovers and “constant connoisseurs” unable to find a better cup, they decided to roast their own beans. From that decision, the two left their jobs in 2018 to become business partners in the world of specialty coffee roasting.
Together, they launched Kamiak Coffee Company in Moscow, Idaho.
Building an ethical, international company
O’Malley and Schoenlein created a business philosophy that would govern the global practices and interactions of the company. Kamiak imports raw beans (green coffee) ethically sourced from farmers who implement environmentally responsible coffee growing practices. The coffee is specialty grade, meaning it contains zero defects in a 200–300 gram sample. It is also certified “free trade,” meaning buyers pay above commodity price for the beans they import, and farmers are paid a fair wage for their product.
Only 1 percent of coffee grown in the world meets these criteria.
Kamiak specifically seeks out farmers who grow incredible specialty coffee, but also have incredible stories. They are currently roasting a coffee that comes from a farm in the Democratic Republic of Congo where 25 percent of the farmers are widows of the civil war in that country. The developing coffee economy has given these women and families a way to heal and recover economic security. Another coffee currently available on their seasonally rotating menu is from a cooperative farm in Colombia run by 140 women banding together to bring economic security to their region.
A grounded future
Today, Kamiak does business with more than 70 suppliers from across the globe and has a retail and wholesale customer base that grows daily.
Their vision for the future growth of the company remains grounded by three main values:
- In order to do great work, you must love what you do.
- Life is too short not to do something extraordinary.
- Make a positive impact in our community and world.
“From the beginning we wanted Kamiak to make a difference in the global marketplace. You can see that in the farmers we choose to import from and the stories of equality, survival, and growth we choose to champion,” says O’Malley. “Our sincere hope is that our company will inspire coffee drinkers to want to learn more about where their coffee comes from, who is growing it, and how it is being roasted.”