Music seeped through the opening door that led into the Dillanos coffee roasting warehouse in Sumner, and the robust smell of coffee and haze filled the air.
Dillanos began in Buckley in 1992 when father-and-son duo Howard Heyer and David Morris used their business skills and enthusiasm to start a coffee cart in front of Heyer’s convenience store.
As they recruited Morris’ brother, Chris Heyer, an experienced barista, the company started to roast their own beans with a 20-pound coffee roaster.
“One of the reasons for our success has been the unique and individual strengths, wisdom and leadership styles that each of us as owners brings to the table,” Morris said.
At one time, they were simply wholesale coffee roasters, but now they’re branching out with a focus on retail.
“Everything at Dillanos is changing,” said Lon LaFlamme, director of marketing and national sales. “(We’re) in a state of evolution, ever since 2011, people are asking to be associated with the Dillanos brand.”
A year ago, Dillanos won the 2011 Macro Roaster of the Year award, presented by Roast Magazine.
“You can’t fake culture, and we’re very different and unique,” LaFlamme said.
The Roaster of the Year is an annual award given to the coffee roaster that “best embodies the specialty coffee ideal: exceptional coffee, support for sustainable farming practices, and industry leadership through education and innovation,” according to Roast Magazine.
“We’re a lot deeper than just making a product,” LaFlamme said.
Since the achievement, Dillanos has revamped its logo, packaging and the company to evolve with the growing business. But its commitment to quality will always be priority.
“The work that goes into creating a great cup of coffee has to start at the farm,” said Phil Beattie, director of coffee and chair of the Roasters Guild. “That’s been our biggest focus: putting that spotlight on the farmer, sharing that credit with everyone in the supply chain that helped us create it.”
From the farmer, who spends one year with each tree, to having the coffee boxed and delivered, brewed and then served, more than 150 steps go into creating that great cup of coffee so many people enjoy every day.
“We’ve put a lot of focus on linking that supply chain together,” LaFlamme said. “It’s more than just a process, it’s a relationship.”
It also can represent something more to customers, Beattie said.
Dillanos’ mission statement has been, “helping people, making friends, having fun.” Throughout their 20 years of business, helping people is a local and worldwide commitment.
“Coffee becomes this vehicle of change,” Beattie said. “If we can create an understanding of the special flavor characteristics and uniqueness and amount of work that goes into creating a really great-tasting coffee, then we can reward those farmers that are putting the hard work into creating that flavor.”
As he pointed at a wall lined with portraits of children, LaFlamme picked out one particular picture of a little girl with big brown eyes.
“I’ve had Maria for 10 years now,” he said.
As a way of supporting their coffee-farming countries, Dillanos chooses to support the Christian Children’s Fund.
“When an employee comes to Dillanos, the company pays for and assigns you a child from a coffee-growing and impoverished country of the world,” LaFlamme said.
Dillanos may not be considered a small business in Sumner, but the company functions like a family, with coffee as its foundation.
In 2006, the company created its own employee emergency fund. Starting what’s called the Dillanos Family Relief Fund, employees can voluntarily contribute. When employees run into hardship, they can apply for a grant, Morris said.
Employees can freely donate between $2 and $100 from their own paycheck. Every single employee donates, Morris said.
“This makes it feel more like a family,” Executive Vice President Keith Hayward said.
Dillanos also is committed to supporting the community. It is involved in Relay for Life and Toys for Tots.
“We totally love and are involved in the community in a lot of different ways,” LaFlamme said. “Sumner and Puyallup are Dillanos. It’s all together. That’s how it feels.”
Dillanos Coffee Roasters is Sumner’s hidden gem.
“Coffee is our air,” Morris said.
Fun with a number
The company number 22 is displayed everywhere in Dillanos. This favorite number of co-owners David Morris and Chris Heyer is hidden in their products and signs. Dillanos Coffee Roasters is actually 22 letters, something they just discovered last year. “It’s the ‘Where’s Waldo’ of Dillanos Coffee,” Beattie said. “Where’s the 22?”
Samantha K. Shockley is a freelance reporter for The Herald.