BY CINDY GERLACH
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
PRODUCTION PHOTOS PROVIDED
The mere mention of coffee evokes smells and imagery that transport people to a place or a time. For many of us, it’s the first thing we reach for in the morning. Or it’s an excuse to gather with friends, to take a break or help us make it through a busy day.
It’s a staple in so many of our daily lives — it’s easy to take coffee for granted. But Brad and Cary Gutwein have taken their love affair a step further by making it their business. The brothers purchased the Copper Moon Coffee brand in 2006. And while they may not have reinvented coffee per se, they have taken this already existent brand to a new level.
This isn’t the brothers’ first foray into partnership in business. Growing up, the two always had a good relationship, says elder brother Brad. Brad graduated from Purdue University in 1989 with a degree in hotel and restaurant management – a good all-around degree with a focus on both business and hospitality – while Cary studied at Valparaiso University.
The two joined forces earlier in their careers when they operated a birdseed business, Morning Song.
“We’ve always gotten along really well,” says Brad. “We have a good balance of talent and skills. Cary is more operational, I’m more marketing and sales.”
But eventually, they outgrew their fledgling operation, ready for a bigger challenge. After they sold Morning Song they were ready for their next venture. And coffee, Brad says, was no accident — it was intentional. He had done a lot of research on coffee and knew that was a venture he was interested in — and one he knew they were well prepared to take on.
For one, they already had a company put together and an infrastructure, a hold-over from Morning Song. And many of their employees stayed on, says Nick Thompson, who currently serves as vice president for sales and marketing but has been with the brothers since 2007.
The concepts of working with birdseed — sourcing, working with an agricultural product, purchasing, packaging, selling to retailers — carry over to the coffee business.
“Those same principles work for coffee,” Thompson says. “They turned it into more of a passion.”
Brad Gutwein attended a trade show in Florida in late 2006, looking for inspiration for his coffee ambition. He visited a booth for a business based in Indianapolis. The brand, Copper Moon Coffee, was owned by a private equity firm; Gutwein knew it was a non-core asset and they might be willing to sell.
“And I was ready,” he says. “I knew what we wanted and what we were looking for.”
So the brothers took the brand name Copper Moon – formerly a part of the now-defunct Marsh supermarket brand – and ran with it. Since the purchase in 2007, the company has remade the entire franchise. Its first roasting facility was on the east side of Indianapolis; in 2012 the entire operation relocated to Lafayette. They have changed the design and packaging, experimented with new flavors and techniques.
“Everyone has an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Thompson. “We’re constantly creating things that go to market. We have that entrepreneurial ability to develop all the way to the end consumer. It’s unreal that we get to do that here in Lafayette. The ability for anyone on our team to come up with an idea on a dry erase board to producing millions of pounds of it.”
The 100,000-square-foot roasting facility on the east side of Lafayette roasts tens of millions of pounds of coffee each year, Thompson says.
Much of the coffee is sold online through its website, coppermooncoffee.com; it is also sold through other online retailers — Amazon, Staples, Office Depot, Wal-Mart.
This year has been better than ever for online sales, Thompson says. The company did a refresh that launched in late January 2020, updating its brand. Copper Moon currently ships to all 48 of the continental United States.
“We expected growth,” he says. “It’s been out of this world.”
But they would like to encourage customers to purchase through the Copper Moon website. If they can see what people order, Thompson says, they are in a better position to help them with future purchases, making recommendations, or letting them know about sales or special offers.
“We get to establish relationships with those customers,” he says.
And the business has expanded into retail operations, opening its flagship café in April 2017 on State Road 26 near Meijer in Lafayette. It gave everyone a chance to see how consumers react to their products in real time.
“I think it kind of served as a good test kitchen for the brand, for what we could produce on a larger level,” Thompson says. “We could take that same coffee to the consumer, see what works. It’s a great marketing tool to reach our local community.”
Copper Moon recently opened its second location. The latest, on Sagamore Parkway in West Lafayette, has more than one drive-through lane, which helps serve customers during these pandemic months.
It’s a challenge, says Gutwein, but they’re learning and adapting.
Yet with coffee shops on nearly every corner these days, how did the brothers feel like they could put their own spin on coffee? Coffee – the world’s second-largest commodity, next to oil — is, these days, ubiquitous; how does one put their own spin on something that is everywhere?
“Coffee is very recognizable,” Gutwein says. “Which means it’s very complicated. You need to find a lane or a niche. We understand purchasing, packaging and selling to retailers.”
Much of their sales were, formerly, to offices that provided
coffee to their employees. Now that the workplace has shifted and so many people are working from home, Copper Moon’s sales and marketing have had to shift as well. People are buying more five-pound bags these days.
“At-home brewing has grown considerably,” Gutwein says. “Consumption rates have gone up.” People are drinking coffee for more of their day, or at different times. Consumer behavior has changed, and the business will have to change with it.
Thus, Copper Moon’s mission, says Gutwein, is to adapt its marketing and advertising, reaching customers in new way.
“The customers we do pick up are sticky,” he says. “We need to continue to advertise to them. That’s a real focal point with us.”
One of the most important pillars of the business model is Reach for the Moon, the company’s philanthropic effort. Copper Moon is committed not only to selling great coffee, but to serving others and giving back to the community.
It’s a term the team takes literally, Thompson says.
“It’s our giveback arm. We think coffee can help you reach your goals.”
We Give a Cup is its offer to provide complementary drinks to health care workers, firefighter, police officers, members of the military and educators.
“We’re trying to fuel our local heroes as they work to protect us,” Thompson says. “It’s a practical way for us to support our frontline heroes at this time.”
The initiative funds pursuits in STEM fields, partnering with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which provides more than 50 scholarships annually. It supports Purdue Space Day, Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories, a 24-acre research center home to the world’s largest academic propulsion lab. And it supports a number of other organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, Food Finders Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity.
Copper Moon works because of its business principles and how it practices them, says Thompson. It’s a family-owned business, and it has local roots. The company produces high-grade coffee, and it is committed to sustainability as well as social, economical and environmental concerns. And it is committed to giving back to the community.
But in the end, it comes back to family. It’s a business that feels like a family. Because, of course, it is a family. Brad and Cary work very well together, Thompson says.
“It’s very much a family,” he says. “They’re a good yin and yang. It works.”
The brothers try to model excellent relationships.
“In business there has to be a lot of give and take, humility and respect for the other’s point of view,” Gutwein says. “We’ve done it our entire lives. We understand each other; we listen. If there are issues, we talk through them.”
And it’s a feeling that extends beyond the brothers; as Thompson points out, a good number of their team have been with them since the Morning Song days, people who work in operations, sales, marketing, graphic design.
And at the heart of the business: coffee. Because what better way to be successful than to love what you do, do what you love?
“Coffee brings people together,” says Gutwein. “It’s a global beverage — it literally is recognized globally. I love coffee.” ★