The Wicked Joe Coffee Roasting Co. in Topsham looks to apply for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant, which is contingent on creating 17 new jobs. Bob Garver, who is holding the ball, and Carmen Garver, to his right, are the owners. Courtesy Bob Garver

TOPSHAM — The crippling economic climate caused by the coronavirus pandemic has made the owners of the Wicked Joe Coffee Roasting Co. all the more determined to not only secure jobs in force at their coffee and tea brewing facility but also create new ones.

The town, on behalf of Wicked Joe, is applying for $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Board of Selectmen was to hold public hearings on the matter Thursday, May 7, and Thursday, May 21. During the latter part of the meeting the panel is to review this year’s entire Town Meeting warrant. Residents are to vote whether to approve the application at the June 17 Town Meeting.

Wicked Joe owners Bob and Carmen Garver could hear this summer whether they’ve received funding. The money – contingent upon Wicked Joe creating 17 new full-time jobs, nine of them for low- and moderate-income people – would fund expanded equipment and infrastructure, such as new roasters and packaging equipment, in order to meet increased demand on both the Garvers’ coffee business and its sister tea-making operation, Wicked Leaf Organic Teas.

The grant “was already in the works before the (pandemic) and the unemployment; the position we’re in now,” Bob Garver said. “Obviously like many companies, we’re sitting here saying ‘OK, everything is changing.’ But if anything, the need for this kind of program, and for companies like us to step up and really work to create these jobs, is even more important now than ever.”

Growing its tea operation helps the Garvers to diversify their business, “which is even more critical now” during the pandemic, Garver said. “That diversification helps us to protect existing jobs as well as create new ones.”

Roasting coffee for more than 20 years, Wicked Joe initially leased space at the former U.S. Navy Annex Commissary on Canam Drive in 2014. It now owns that building, along with a former Army recruitment building eyed for future expansion and a former fire house, which will be dedicated to tea brewing. The three buildings make up what is known as the Annex’s “Triangle.”

Bob Shattuck, Topsham’s economic and community development director, called Wicked Joe “an excellent addition to the Topsham business community that has consistently provided a growing number of jobs, restored historic buildings at the former Annex and been very active and supportive participants in community activities.”

Wicked Joe in 2014 received a $270,000 block grant that was contingent on hiring nine people. Garver said the added staffing will raise his production team past 50 and he looks through the expansion to increase production and sales by 20% annually.

Wicked Leaf tea is sold nationally in more than 400 stores and growing rapidly, and Wicked Joe coffee is found in 4,600 stores, Garver said.

“We have been for the last few years looking at entrenching ourselves more in this community,” he said of Topsham.”We do not want to leave; we’re a Maine company. It’s on our bags, it’s on our boxes, it’s an important part of who we are.”

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