It's a Conspiracy
Somewhere in Ethiopia, a long, long time ago, there were shepherds watching flocks. By night. (It may or may not have been Christmas.) These were flocks of goats. If you’re at all familiar with goats, you know they are unique creatures with curious habits. But these flocks were behaving in particularly unique and curious ways—i.e. they were zooming about at night rather than sleeping or browsing quietly, leaving the shepherds to wonder, as they tried to contain their charges, “What’s up with these goats?” A bit of detective work followed, and the shepherds concluded that the goats became uncharacteristically active and awake after they had eaten From a certain bush. A large-ish bush with waxy green leaves, a bush that produces flowers and fruit, and, in turn, those seeds (maybe it was Christmas!) we call beans that make the beverage we call coffee.
And that, says Thad Compton, coffee lover, coffee roaster, and owner of Conspiracy Coffee at 11 West Wellsboro Street in Mansfield, is one of the most commonly told how-did-people-come-to-know-about-coffee stories.
This is Thad’s first foray into the restaurant business, but not his first into coffee. Over steaming cups of java, with the chatter of customers and staff in the background, and the fragrances of something fairly yummy wafting from the kitchen area, the probation-officer-by-day elaborates.
“I’m ahead of schedule,” he says. “I wanted this to be a retirement project.” Though he is a ways from that happy occasion, he is never far from the substance which will propel him to it—a good cup of coffee. He says he realized some years ago “there really wasn’t anything fresh” in the supermarket’s coffee aisle. Like so many other things, coffee used to be more local.
That is, even if it wasn’t grown locally, there were micro-roasters in every town.
“Then the Big Three came in and gobbled them up,” he continues. “You see it now, with the big beer producers buying out the micro-brews.” Sadly there was, for a time, not much individuality perking in the coffee world. With the coming of Starbucks, and the emergence of the coffee culture on the West Coast—the so-called Third Wave—that began to change.
Thad says he had become a fan of dark roast, especially fresh dark roast, and notes that “discovering” there are alternatives to supermarket coffee is sometimes just serendipity.
“It’s almost like people have to stumble into it,” he says. “I was just lucky to have somebody who said, ‘Hey, have you tried this?’”
Then he began reading about the roasting process.
“It’s just fascinating stuff,” he says. From there it was only a matter of time before he took the plunge.
“I literally started out roasting two or three ounces on my front porch,” he recalls. This was ten or eleven years ago. He used an air popcorn popper to roast in, and used his family as guinea pigs. “My worst critics were my parents,” he laughs. “And my first roasting efforts—my God, it was awful!” Then, back around 2010 or 2011, “I was out popcorn popper shopping [he had pretty good luck finding used ones at thrift stores and yard sales],” and someone pointed him in the direction of the Tioga County Fairgrounds, telling him there was an old coffee roaster in one of the buildings up there. It happened to be the week leading up to the fair, so there were people around. Somebody gave him a key, he unlocked a door, “and there it was,” “it” being a Royal Coffee Roaster, built in Hornell, New York, circa 1900.
“I sat there in awe,” Thad remembers. “I had seen these things online. Man, what a beauty.”
He knew the value of what he was seeing, and he told the members of the Fair Board that they needed to be cognizant of what that was. He also knew what he had to spend, so he made the best offer he could. The board accepted, and Thad found himself in possession of his first real coffee roaster. He polished it up and started using it—staging the roasting process at his dad’s place and building a loyal customer base.
When storefront space in Mansfield became available, Thad, with the support of his family, began thinking seriously about that retirement project. Months of remodeling, repurposing, and refinancing followed. He and his dad, Ted Compton, made all the tables. They pulled nails from old rafters, ran them through a planer, and used them for trim. They drove to Pittsburgh to pick up used chairs.
“We really bargain hunted. My goal was to try to keep expenses down and to keep everything affordable, but...” Thad shrugs. “You run into things. I learned a lot from other small business owners. It’s given me a whole new respect for them—all those people I’ve done little tidbits of business with over the years. They’re all taking that risk.”
He also credits his dad—who happens to be spending at least part of his ninetieth birthday working at his son’s restaurant—for helping him “every step of the way.”
“I wouldn’t be in this building without him,” he continues. “My family, my wife [Cindi], they’ve sacrificed right along with me.”
Conspiracy Coffee, which you can reach at (570) 463-4150, opened in October of 2017 with the Royal Coffee Roaster providing the coffee. After some trial and error, the breakfast and lunch offerings these days, including Native Bagel bagels, Ted’s Breakfast Special, omelets, wraps, paninis, sticky buns, and, of course, bottomless cups of fabulous coffee. There is a more modern coffee roaster in use now (the Royal is temporarily retired), with coffee roasted daily on-site. Thad still loves a good dark roast, but says he’s come to appreciate the lighter side, and understands that people like options.
“I live in a rural community, and if you just do one kind of coffee, you’re not giving people their choices,” he muses. “Coffee has to be good and it has to be affordable to my community.”
Sounds like the best kind of conspiracy.