July 14, 2013

Portland's Coffee By Design growing from the grounds up

Powered by a robust blend of passion and caffeine, the shop is poised to grow again, exemplifying the rare success story that manages to stay true to its 'humble beginnings.'

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Coffee By Design has come a long way in the 19 years since co-owners Alan Spear and Mary Allen Lindemann took turns sleeping in the basement of their first shop on Congress Street.

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Alan Spear and Mary Allen Lindemann, the married couple who co-own Portland’s Coffee By Design, stand in the 40,000-square-foot warehouse on Diamond Street that they’re converting into a “playground for coffee geeks.” Their fifth retail site represents a major expansion, taking the company – and the local coffee culture – to a new level.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

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July 1, 1994 – Congress Street coffeehouse opens.

1996 – Monument Square coffeehouse opens.

1998 – India Street coffeehouse and roastery opens, CBD starts craft-roasting coffee beans.

2000 – Wins first Specialty Coffee Association of America’s TOPS Retailer Award

2002- Monument Square coffeehouse is sold to Zarra Hermann to create Zarra’s Coffeehouse

2003 – Washington Avenue single-origin coffee bar opens, roasting operation and offices are relocated here.

2008 – Freeport coffeehouse opens inside L.L.Bean flagship store, later moves from second floor location to Main Street storefront location.

September 2012 - CBD puts warehouse on Diamond Street in Portland under contract for a future expansion

2012 - CBD named one of Zagat’s Top Ten Coolest Coffee Shops in the U.S., with mentions in Forbes and Travel + Leisure’s hipster rankings.

March 2013 – Closes on purchase of 1-11 Diamond St.

June 2013 – Construction begins on Diamond Street.

September 2013 – Construction to be completed, two Loring Smart Roasters to arrive

October 2013 – CBD roastery, offices and warehouse to move from Washington Avenue to Diamond Street location

November 2013 – Diamond Street coffeehouse to open


1. Costa Rica Dota Finca La Pastora

2. Organic Guatemala Quiche Maya lxil Co-op

3. Sumatra Lintong Dolok Sangull Peaberry

4. Costa Rica Tarrazu Hacienda La Minita Cafe del Sol

5. Organic Ethiopia Sidamo Nura Korate


1. Zimbabwe Salimba Estate

2. Panama Boquete Geisha from the Esmeralda Estate

3. Costa Rica La Minita Estate

4. Guatemala Coban La Cascada Estate

5. Papua New Guinea Eastern Highlands Arokara Co-op


Today, the business operates four coffee shops, employs 50 people and sells nearly a half a million pounds of coffee beans a year through nearly 300 retailers as far away as Las Vegas. The company's gross revenues for 2012 were between $6 million and $7 million, Spear said. And the married couple, considered pioneers of Portland's robust coffee scene and a catalyst for the Congress Street renaissance, are now on the verge of a major expansion project that is expected to take the business -- and the local coffee culture -- to a new level.

They are converting part of a 40,000-square-foot warehouse on Diamond Street in the burgeoning East Bayside neighborhood into what Spear describes as a "playground for coffee geeks." Along with a fifth retail location and a larger roasting facility, the building will include space where people can learn about different coffees, observe the roasting and blending of beans and, of course, sample a variety of locally roasted coffees, says Spear. It will also have a barista training center and a showroom for coffee equipment.

Even as the company continues to grow, Spear said CBD, as it's known, remains committed to providing quality coffees at a fair price to consumers and to coffee farmers, and to fostering community on both ends of the business.

"People think we're this big coffee roasting company," said Spear, while standing in the cramped, bustling roasting facility on Washington Avenue. "But we've stayed true to our original mission."

While Diamond Street will be a place where people can "geek out" on coffee, Lindemann said it will also cater to artists, blue collar workers, students and others looking for a cup of coffee and place to kick back in a "warm, earthy" environment.

"There is a trend in our industry that is elitist," Lindemann said. "We want amazing coffee to be available to everybody. ...

"Our humble beginnings are still there."


Spear and Lindemann were introduced to the specialty coffee movement while living in Seattle in the mid-to-late 1980s, when Starbucks was still a start-up.

Lindemann was a marketing professional trying to land a coffee company as a client. Each night, she would bring home market research, and Spear, a landscape architect, would pore through it.

Lindemann was drawn to one West Coast company in particular, the Torrefazione Italia, where coffee was served in chinaware by knowledgeable baristas in a relaxing environment.

"She would come back to the house with these amazing stories," said Spear, who turns 52 on July 18. "It was more than just a cup of coffee."

"He really got the coffee bug bad," said Lindemann, 53.

Spear, whose favorite weekend pastime was hanging out in coffee bars, was struck by the complexities of a seemingly simple drink. His life was changed after reading the book "Coffee," by Kenneth Davids. It explained the history of coffee, the origins of the beans and the farmers who harvest them, he said.

"I picked up that book and it changed my perception about what coffee could be," said Spear, who has traveled to more than 50 coffee farms. "A good cup of coffee can change someone's day."

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Additional Photos

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Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Coffee By Design’s owners pose outside their first coffeehouse on Congress Street on July 1, 1994, the day it opened. Business has been booming ever since.

Contributed photo

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Patrons Brian King of Gorham and Clark Carter of Portland converse last week at Coffee By Design’s Washington Avenue location in Portland.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Asa Korsen roasts Peruvian coffee at Coffee By Design’s Washington Avenue facility on Thursday, Co-owner Alan Spear said the company currently offers 35 different coffees and blends, excluding flavored coffee, from 17 countries.

Shawn Patrick Ouelette/Staff Photographer

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Alan Spear

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Mary Allen Lindermann

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The roasting operation, currently taking place here at Washington Avenue, will move to Diamond Street when Coffee By Design completes its expansion, quadrupling its roasting capacity from 500,000 pounds a year to 2 million pounds.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


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