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

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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

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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


"I am thrilled to have Alan's coffees. (He's) a great roaster -- one of the best I know," said Sam Hayward, Fore Street's celebrated chef. "I buy his coffees pretty much exclusively for my own home because I love them so much."


Russell, the investor, said the couple's business acumen wasn't the only thing that made him a believer. "They do it with heart, which is what I always liked," he said.

Spear is the coffee guru, while Lindemann oversees efforts to ensure the company contributes to the community by supporting local artists and businesses.

She said the couple's artist friends had been hit particularly hard economically in the 1980s, so the couple wanted to support the arts. They began by holding regular art showings by local artists in their Congress Street coffee shop and became active in efforts to establish the Arts District, revitalize Portland's downtown and launch the city's Buy Local program. They're also founding members of the First Friday Artwalk.

The couple commissioned a local artist, David Cedone, to paint a mural, using old photographs, in the Congress Street location that tells the CBD story. It is still there today.

Spear noted that with the Diamond Street expansion project, the couple are using as many local companies as possible, many of which are located in East Bayside.

In 1998, the company began awarding $1,000 to $2,000 grants to artists and small arts organizations by setting aside $1 for every pound of its best-selling "Rebel Blend" coffee sold.

Lindemann said the company solicits proposals and CBD staff considers the merits of each proposal and chooses the winners. About 25 groups have received funding since the program began.

Last year, CBD gave out at total of $6,000 in grants to three groups: Yes Art Works, which provides creative opportunities to people with mental and other disabilities; The Telling Room, a Portland nonprofit writing center for youth ages 6-18; and the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival's student film contest.

And when it comes to the coffee itself, Spear says CBD will not buy coffee unless it is 100 percent traceable back to the source.

The couple visited their first coffee farm in 2003. That year, they also served as members of the International Jury at the Specialty Coffee Association of Panama's Best of Panama competition and the Specialty Coffee Association of Bolivia's Cupping the Mountain's Peak.

Spear said all of their coffees are organically grown. Those that are certified organic are stored, roasted, blended and packaged according to USDA standards.

The company buys as much certified products -- whether organic, Rainforest Alliance or Fair Trade -- as possible, but also will buy noncertified products that are cultivated in accordance with those standards.

"Some farmers choose not to get certified because it costs them money," Spear said.

In 2011, the couple donated $5,000 to a school for children with learning disabilities in Jardin, Colombia, so it could build a new kitchen.

They're also committed to sustainability. CBD composts 100,000 pounds of coffee grounds and chaff annually and uses solar panels to power its Washington Avenue facility. Their new coffee roasters will be the most energy-efficient available, Spear said.


Bob Garver, owner of Wicked Joe coffee roasters in Brunswick, credited CBD as being "a pioneer of sorts" for bringing quality, locally roasted coffee to the state.

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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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