Northwest Arkansas is home to innovators, creators, and masters of their craft. This week Ashley Wardlow, Executive Director of the NWA Tech Summit, had a chance to sit down with Andrea Allen, Owner of Onyx Coffee Lab, to catch up on their latest ventures, their move into e-commerce, and how technology has aided the growth of the brand.
Ashley Wardlow: For those who may not have discovered the brand yet, can you give us the Onyx Coffee Lab origin story?
Andrea Allen: Years ago we started telling each other to “Never Settle for Good Enough.” It felt perhaps like a piece of branding or a slogan, but over the years this mentality has developed into a mantra of its own that permeates every thing that we do at Onyx.
We are both Arkansas natives, and when we started we wanted to do something great in coffee as a whole, not just in Arkansas. This led us to travel to find the absolute best coffees across different continents, countries, and terrains. We maintain high standards for how our coffees score and taste. Each coffee is accompanied by its pricing and trade data, meaning you can see what we paid for it, its score, who we bought it from, and other details. We’re the first coffee company to publish this data in real time.
Our main business is roasting and shipping coffee to other high end cafes across the country and internationally. We’ve long been known as a coffee company for coffee people, but we have a ton of pride in our retail cafe footprint in Northwest Arkansas. Our goal is to make customers feel welcomed, seen, and heard, and that our service completes the end of the supply chain in a way that keeps customers thinking and asking questions about coffee long after the cup is finished. We aim for excellence and hospitality to run through every part of our business.
AW: As the business has grown into a nationally recognized brand, how have you adapted your e-commerce model to keep pace?
AA: Over the years we’ve marketed ourselves towards the coffee industry. This has led us to focus predominantly on wholesale, to be coffee for coffee professionals. In a way, e-commerce has been an offshoot. It’s been a steadily growing business for us, but only recently have we really begun to focus on it.
The main way we engage with wholesale and retail customers is through social media. We regularly engage in Instagram working to visually and verbally communicate the stories of producers, the culture of Onyx, the science behind brewing and roasting. This has led us to steadily engage with more and more customers.
We’ve been working on a new website for the last year that will help us continue to push into who we are. We’re hoping to offer e-commerce customers a similar feel of hospitality and service by having an abundance of coffee resources, brewing guides, fun graphics, beautiful and engaging video and photography, smart recommendations for which coffee to choose, and an updated subscription platform. The new site also coincides with a total rebrand for us, and we’re hoping to continue pushing the industry forward in coffee standards, in design, and in service.
AW: From your perspective, what’s the most valuable role technology plays in your business?
AA: The coffee industry is knit together with stories as coffee changes hands over and over from being a seed to the final cup in your hand. The stories are full of hope and beauty and incredible coffees, and at the same time the industry is riddled with problems and inequity. We hope people will join our journey for truth and accountability in coffee as we work to find the finest and most beautiful coffees in the world. Technology is the way we tell this story.
AW: What’s new/next for Onyx that you’d like to share?
AA: Our new website and rebranding are currently forthcoming and we’d love for y’all to check it out. We are working on a project called “OnyxCreamery” which is a collaboration between us and Ozark Mountain Creamery. This is a bulk size OnyxDelight in a jar with other variations coming soon. Our newest cafe in The Momentary arts facility is open after being mostly closed due to Covid19. We opened two weeks before the pandemic started so we’re still feeling very new there. The space is beautiful and worth visiting!