Luging is one of the most precisely timed sports in the world. The athletes, who race supine, feet-first, at speeds of up to 95 mph are clocked across the finish line at the thousandth of a second. It is a sport that requires the utmost understanding of balance, subtlety and composure from its competitors. The slightest movement, mentally or physically, at such high hurtling speeds, could easily lead to disastrous consequences. Steering is critical. Reflex is key. The athletes have no protection, and there are no brakes.
Life doesn’t have brakes either, Jesse Renfors is starting to understand. Once a member of the US National Luge team (he just barely missed the chance to represent the country in the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City), Renfors now owns and operates Cody Coffee Roasters, a small batch coffee roasting facility and full-fledged creperie and cafe in Cody, Wyoming. What started as an endeavor driven by the curiosity of a natural-born entrepreneur and the boredom of a stay-at-home-dad rapidly slid into a wholesale delivery service. And then a mobile coffee cart. And then a brick-and-mortar. In just three years. Now that’s speed.
“It was unexpected,” Renfors says, laughing with a humble honesty, seated at one of his very own chairs at the cafe. But once he started, gravity kicked in and there truly seemed to be no brakes. In 2012, he, his wife Michelle, and his two young sons, Owen and Alex, moved to Cody from the upper peninsula of Michigan where Renfors had grown up. Along with suitcases, furniture and toys loaded into and strapped atop the car, a peanut roaster came too—Renfors’ newest toy. He bought it on a whim, thinking it would give him something new to pursue—a playful curve to his life. Once in Cody, he began perusing YouTube videos and reaching out to fellow roasters to learn how to roast coffee. Without giving away any secrets, he admits it isn’t as difficult as it might appear: “If you can cook a steak, you can roast coffee.” In 2013, he bought a 1971 camper for $600 and moved his project from the family garage into the aptly named “Roast Coach.” On Cody Area Classifieds, the town’s Facebook version of Craigslist, he began offering free samples of his coffee in 3-ounce jars. The samples soon turned into sales and for three years, Renfors ran his operations door-to-door, delivering freshly roasted beans, often still warm, to doorsteps.
Just this year, Renfors got the idea to go mobile too and offer his coffee in hot liquid form. In the spring, he bought a vintage teardrop cart, funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, with plans to set up the impromptu shop at the Silver Dollar Bar patio during the summer. Then, a sharp curve came—he was offered a deal on the old Stewart’s Mercantile space near the Yellowstone Regional Airport.
Of course, there’s always that bit of friction and fear-driven inertia to fight.
“I was so hesitant at first,” he says, talking about the move into the cafe space with a crepe concept. “In Wyoming, it’s a state of burgers and beef and big hearty meals. And here I am offering a light meal? A crepe?!” But Renfors says it’s that kind of doubt that gives him the drive because “you dig so much deeper, you want to prove people so wrong.”
So with no loss of composure, he slid right in, with a soft opening in June and a steady stream of customers through the doors. He’s barely had time to look up. But, he has his sights set on improving his systems, becoming more efficient—faster, yes, always faster—and expanding his roasting facilities. He’s currently still roasting out of the camper—although he’s since upgraded to two six-pound roasters that allow him to crank out 500-600 pounds a week. He says he still spends many nights roasting after a full day at the restaurant, in order to supply loyal retail accounts in town and across Wyoming. Cody Coffee can be found everywhere from the local Legends Bookstore in downtown Cody to Casper to Dubois. He’s been wildly successful in Dubois, he chuckles. He speculates that the entire town, population 995, might be drinking Cody Coffee.
Although the source of his beans changes based on availability (he buys from brokers on the West Coast), the ethics remain—fair trade, single-source, organic. He includes origin information with his roasts online from the names of the growers to the regions they hail from to the dates they were harvested. Customers can rely on a selection of beans from Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Sumatra and Ethiopia in a range of bold and black to mellow and earthy. Renfors is also known to custom roast to preference. In the cafe, most drinking tastes can be accommodated too, as Renfors has made it a goal to be able to make coffee every single way. There are french presses and funnels for pour overs and, soon, there will be nitro cold brew in frosted mugs and a porter-style beer made from Cody Coffee.
“Quality comes first here,” Renfors says. “We certainly don’t skimp, and we’re not cutting any corners—in the coffee or in the restaurant.” The cafe, which has a full menu of crepes, sandwiches, salads and smoothies, sources as much food as it can locally: Shoshone River Farms provides the seasonal produce; Gallagher’s supplies the natural roast beef, ham and bacon; a microgreen farm in Powell delivers the sprouts, and the bread is shipped in from just over the state line in Montana.
Over the past three years, Renfors has handled the speed of his growing business with great finesse, with the utmost patience and with evident passion—skills he no doubt learned from years on the slick surface of ice tracks, traveling at unforgiving speeds. This swiftness has him aware that he’s got to enjoy it all while he can, though—that timer is ever ticking. “Everyone these days seems to be worrying about what’s next,” he says. “But you’ve got to enjoy the time you have. It’s overwhelming at times, yes, but all you need is a little rest and come right back at it.“ Spoken like a true athlete.
During the interview him, he was up and down from the table, going to help the women behind the counter as the lunch line grew. He’s quick and nimble and knows how to work fast with the espresso machine, or behind the heat of the crepe pans, but he also takes the time to smile, wave and chat with everyone. It’s his favorite part, he says, the people—from the tourists to the locals, to the dedicated staff he says has helped make this possible.
In luging, the ideal, or the goal, for a race is to find the “sweet spot” on the track—that place where the slider is perfectly balanced between forces and the sled sails smoothly through the turns and across the straightaways, making the speed, and all that’s at stake, look easy. It seems Renfors and Cody Coffee have found that sweet spot.