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


Garver said he drinks his own coffees but that the quality of CBD's coffee is proven by its customer base. "They have what appears to be a very loyal customer base, and that's the best endorsement there is," he said.

Joanna Morrissey and her husband, Cory, owned and operated Java Joe's on Exchange Street in Portland for about seven years. The couple, who opened Java Joe's shortly before CBD opened its first shop in 1994, decided to get out of the coffee business and sell the shop in 2001.

Morrissey also credited the couple with raising awareness -- and consumer demand -- for quality coffees in the state.

"The days of Mainers insisting on having quality coffee over the counter (are) here to stay, and it's due largely to those two and their expert marketing and raising awareness about what a great cup of coffee means and is," she said.

Morrissey also credited the company's commitment to the well-being of its coffee farmers.

Morrissey said CBD's products are "far superior" to other coffee roasters.

"(CBD) has figured out how to have their coffee in many different areas and somehow guarantee the taste and quality of every cup," she said. "I honestly don't know how they do it. It's the secret to their success."

Not everyone can sell CBD's products.

Spear said wholesalers and by-the-cup sellers must undergo a training process to learn about the origins of the coffee and how to prepare it and serve it to customers. "When an account is set up, it comes with me," Spear joked.

That's exactly why Paul Harrison has served CBD coffee at the Little Dog Cafe in Brunswick since it opened nine years ago, despite efforts to get him to switch brands.

"They're really partners more than just wholesalers," said Harrison, who consults with the couple about potential new locations.

Harrison, who started going to Coffee by Design on Congress Street in 1995 when Lindemann and Spear were always behind the counter, credited the company with helping to turn around that area of town.

Meanwhile, Harrison said he was recently explaining to a customer about why his shop has been successful on Maine Street. It was the location, customer service and the space, he said.

Then a loyal but eavesdropping customer piped in.

"It's the (expletive) coffee," Harrison recalled, laughing. "He was right. We have a coffee that without question affects our customer flow."


Like its coffees, Coffee by Design has been growing organically. It doesn't employ a full-time salesperson to acquire new accounts.

"We don't cold-call anybody," said Spear. "It's all word of mouth."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that so many people and publications -- local and national -- are so willing to sing the praises of its coffee, hipster culture and support of community organizations.

Last year, national publications piled on. Zagat's named CBD one of the Top 10 coolest independent coffee houses in the U.S. The company was also singled out when Forbes named Downtown Portland as the 11th best hipster neighborhood in the U.S. and Travel + Leisure named it the fifth best U.S. city for hipsters.

"For caffeinated hipster-watching, go to Coffee by Design, which first opened on the once-seedy, and now thriving, Congress Street, where you can sip the same java made for local foodie magnet Fore Street restaurant," wrote Travel & Leisure.

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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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