St. Ives Coffee Roasters used to sit on the corner of Riverside Drive and Green Street. It was one of the only coffee shops and roasters in the area. Many Gainesville residents relied on it for their morning cup of joe and it was where many met with friends or did work.
St. Ives left that prominent location across from City Park after the owner, Don Wilson, left the business. It relocated in Gainesville under new ownership but ceased operation in August 2017.
Some of the parts that made St. Ives a favorite around town have hung around though, and still get use today.
“We bought their Diedrich roaster,” said Barbara Cole, co-owner of North Star Coffee Company in Gainesville.
That roaster, which was built in 1993, was once featured on Food Network’s “Good Eats,” when host Alton Brown visited St. Ives to explain the coffee roasting process.
Now, it’s the roaster Cole and her husband and co-owner Michael Caruso use in their warehouse to bring North Star Coffee to places like Green’s Grocery and others in the area.
But before they could start using it, they had to search the country for parts to get it up and running again.
“They stopped using it and it was abandoned, kind of sitting in the corner,” Cole said.
It looked like the machine hadn’t been cleaned in years, so from the moment Cole and her husband got it to their warehouse, they were committed to cleaning it up.
After reaching out to Diedrich Roasters in hopes of getting help with parts and advice on what to do, they were back to where they started.
“Diedrich was like, ‘We’re sending you the schematics of a machine and good luck. Here’s the schematics and let us know how that works out,’” Cole said.
Since it was such an old machine, they couldn’t find many records and didn’t have any parts readily available.
It’s a pretty big machine, too. The roaster weighs about 950 pounds and can roast up to 26 pounds of coffee each hour. Cole said it’s a “beast.”
“They were built to last,” Cole said. “We had to take it in pieces to put it in the workroom to work on it.”
She said there was evidence of a fire, which she said can happen when a coffee roaster isn’t maintained or operated properly. Some pieces were broken, others didn’t work. Oils from the roasted beans had coated the drum of the roaster.
“Coffee is very oily and it leaves a layer, so we had to take oven cleaner, and we had to take degreaser, and it was just repetition,” Cole said. “I would get one layer off, and then I’d get another layer off, and I would just wash it and wash it. One piece I know I did 20 times.”
She said she went through at least seven or eight bottles of cleaner from Sam’s Club, and she had to take a needle and scrape out the “crud” from all of the Allen screws so she could use an Allen wrench to get them out and clean some of the pieces.
“The brushes had turned black because of all the oil and stuff, but now they’re all bright and shiny,” Caruso said. “It looks pretty good.”
The roaster has essentially been completely rebuilt. Everything from the heat resistant piece of glass used to peer into the drum while the coffee is roasting, to the lever used to increase the heat, Cole said she spent more than 200 hours repairing and replacing pieces on it.
“We had pretty much the guts removed and new ones put back in,” Cole said. “I mean, I had to go to many a hardware store and I had to go source parts online.”
Eventually, everyone at the hardware stores knew who Cole was. She had been in so many times, showing pictures of the roaster, looking for a screw or bolt, that they started asking how the repair was going.
They’ve gotten the roaster fully functional now and have been using it some. They’re happy with the results. Caruso said it’s nice because they can roast larger batches.
“As the roaster ages, it will pick up distinctive flavors of its own,” Caruso said. “Right now it has almost the exact same taste as the other roaster.”
And for North Star, they don’t rely on the high-tech capabilities of roasters that are sold nowadays. Their roaster is all manual, making sure each batch has special attention paid to it.
“You have to smell it, put your eyes on it and adjust your temperature to what you’re seeing, so it’s real hands-on,” Cole said. “We’re custom roasting it.”