The man slinging beans in one of Homer’s newest roadside coffee stands is on a mission that has more to do with people than it does java.
Motorists frequenting the Homer Bypass will have noticed a giant red coffee cup that appeared in the empty lot at the intersection of the highway and Main Street over the summer. It’s pretty hard to miss. The same can be said of its proprietor, Ethan Smith, who can usually be found in some combination of red and black shirts and suspenders.
Smith, who was born in Seward and raised there as well as in Valdez, has lived in Homer for about the last five years. He came to complete a program at the Alaska Bible Institute and fell in love with the town, he said.
Smith is no stranger to the coffee business. Before opening his own drive through shack, he has worked serving coffee at the Washboard, Coop’s Coffee and Portside Coffee & Co. Smith said he’s often thought over the last few years how great it would be to strike out on his own and manage his own coffee business, if only he had the means.
Those means came in the form of a phone call from his sister, a commercial fisherman in Prince William Sound, who told Smith she would like to help him by investing in a business idea. Smith then found out another local coffee business owner was looking to sell his equipment.
“I had an opportunity, and I figured I should take it,” he said.
After talking it over with his family and employer at the time, Smith said he made the decision to take the leap and start his own business. He bought the unmissable large red cup from Alex Trokey, a local resident who runs the Homer Alaska Podcast.
No sooner did the business have its opening day on July 12 than construction started on Main Street for the summer. Smith said his sales haven’t been quite where he’d like them for a summer season due to the construction, but that he’s hopeful he can recreate the business and interest from his first opening day.
Smith sources his coffee from Batdorf & Bronson Coffee, a company out of Olympia, Washington, and uses the Dancing Goats blend. He said he first got a taste of it while working at the Washboard and has been a fan ever since.
The menu at The Coffeesmith is intentionally pared down. Customers driving through are given a mere 1o items to choose from along with a handful of flavors. Smith said he’ll make other drinks upon requests, but wanted to keep his menu simple for those who don’t pull up knowing exactly what they want, or those who aren’t the biggest coffee experts.
Homer already has its fair share of drive-through coffee stands. They are something of a phenomenon in the state and a staple when driving through most towns. Smith said he isn’t worried about trying to compete. Every stand has its niche, he said.
“People like where they get their coffee,” he said. “If they like Kaladi Brothers (coffee) they’re gonna go to Portside (Coffee). If they like Captain’s (Coffee) they’re gonna go to Captain’s, if they like K Bay (Caffe) they’re gonna go to K Bay.”
Smith said he enjoys running the business because it allows him to connect and talk with the people of Homer. As for what he hopes to accomplish with The Coffeesmith, the answer is pretty simple: “happiness.”
“I want them to feel better after stopping by the coffee cup,” Smith said.
Smith’s goal is to create connections beyond the ordering and serving of coffee with his customers.
“I believe people have value just because they’re alive, regardless of race, color, creed, whatever,” he said. “They have value, and they’re part of the human race so let’s, I don’t know, encourage one another every day if you can. Say something nice or positive, or tell me about your day.”
Because everyone’s palate is so unique, Smith said he knows his coffee won’t always be someone’s favorite.
“That’s OK,” he said. “But I want them to leave better than when they arrived.”
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.